Kate Seredy (1899–1975) wrote several children’s books, and illustrated many more. The Chestry Oak is definitely a horse book. The Good Master and its sequel The Singing Tree are farm stories which have horses in them. Both titles were Newbery Honor books, and Kate Seredy won the Newbery Medal with The White Stag. She was a wonderful illustrator, and did the illustrations for Doris Gates’ Little Vic.
Like her hero Michael in The Chestry Oak, Kate Seredy was born and brought up in Hungary, and then came to America. She was born in Budapest in 1899, to a family the de Grummond site describes as “with one thing in common - activity in some kind of rebellion (political, religious or personal)”. Although she was brought up in the city, she spent time in rural Hungary as a child when she and her father accompanied a group of French artists and scientists studying Hungarian peasant life and art. Kate’s experiences in The Good Master were to some extent Seredy’s. When she grew up, she attended the Academy of Arts in Budapest for six years, and passed a diploma as an art teacher. During World War I, she served as a nurse, coming to the United States in 1922. Like the industrious Nagy family in The Good Master , she was constantly busy and creative, making clothes, furniture and pottery, and decorating furniture with Hungarian designs.
Her books portray a lost world: it’s a rural idyll, and far superior to city life. Kate, the city child, soon becomes healthy and vigorous in the surroundings of the farm. Seredy believed one should live in harmony with the seasons and Nature, and makes this plain by her obvious approval of the simple way the family live. This is further reinforced by the traditional Hungarian tales some of the characters tell, where greed is punished . The Good Master is an immensely attractive book; filled with a sense of comforting and industrious family life, with everyone working for the common good, and pulling together despite the problems that beset the farm: long droughts, snow, and the accidents adventurous children have. The book is filled with little details of Hungarian life at the turn of the 19th century: I particularly liked Kate’s horror at having to wear 18 skirts –
“Oh Auntie, which skirt shall I wear?”
“Which skirt? All of them, of course; it’s a holiday!”
“But there are eighteen on my bed!”
“That’s because you’re only a little girl. I’m wearing thirty-six, but I’m a married woman ...”
And no, Kate can’t wear just one or two, because nice girls wear at least ten!
Many thanks to Susan Bourgeau and Fiona Williams for their help with this section.
Finding the books:
The Chestry Oak is expensive, particularly as a first edition. At the time of looking (April 2010) I could find no paperbacks available at all. The UK hardback edition is not particularly easy to find. The Good Master is very much easier. Paperbacks are readily available, and decent hardbacks are findable at not too exorbitant a cost. The Singing Tree is still in print, and easy to find. It’s reasonably easy to find in hardback.
Sources and links
DJ of the American edition of The Chestry Oak
Kate Seredy’s papers form part of the De Grummond Collection, University of South Michigan
Some examples of Seredy’s illustration.
Bookrags on Kate Seredy