Hungarian born author/artist Kate Seredy has contributed many works to the world of children's literature (see the list here). I've been thoroughly enjoying her 1936 Newbery Honor book The Good Master. The setting is on a farm in Hungary at the turn of the 19th Century - this book reminds me a lot of Mary Mapes Dodge's Hans Brinker, or The Silver Skates, which is about a brother and sister and their life in Holland.
|"Sprinkling of the Girls" - source|
"Sprinkle what -- sprinkle the girls!!?"
"'Course. All the boys and young men go to all their friends who have girls to sprinkle them with water. The girls and mothers give them meat and cakes to eat and Easter eggs to take home...You can sprinkle us on Tuesday after Easter. That's when girls have a good time..."
This tradition goes back to the 2nd Century! “Sprinkling,” a popular Hungarian Easter tradition, is observed on Easter Monday, which is also known as “Ducking Monday.” These days, boys playfully sprinkle perfume or perfumed water on girls, but young men used to pour buckets of water over young women's heads. People believed that water was life-giving and had a cleaning, healing effect.
Look at Seredy's gorgeous first edition cover illustration for The Good Master...
And two later editions....
Jancsi lives on a large farm in the Hungarian plains with his parents. His cousin Kate, a city girl, is coming to stay with them, as she is “delicate”. Kate soon proves to be anything but delicate, and the possessor of an alarmingly loud scream (they call her the "Screaming Monkey"). She and Jancsi soon make friends, and enjoy all the farm has to offer.
"'My cousin Kate from Budapest is coming to live with us. She's delicate and has had the measles!' shouted Jancsi to a friend as he and his father were driving to the station to meet her. Jancsi had imagined Kate as a sort of fragile, fair-haired princess, but the little girl who stepped off the train had plain black hair, a smudgy face, and skinny legs. From the moment Kate arrived, things happened. She was afraid of nothing and full of ideas. When Kate looked most angelic, you could be sure she was thinking up some mischief."
One of the funniest parts of the book is when Kate first arrives and "steals" sausages from the rafters of the family's home. When Kate realizes she can't get down from her high perch, Janci's father, the "Good Master", teaches her a lesson by leaving her there while the family eats dinner. After Janci and his mother have gone to bed, Janci's father climbs up and rescues Kate. Janci's father is a kindly man who understands young boys and girls. He finally wins the confidence of headstrong Kate.
Who was Kate Seredy?
Kate Seredy was born and brought up in Budapest, Hungary in 1899. Although 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, Seredy attended the Academy of Arts in Budapest for six years, and passed a diploma as an art teacher. During the First World War, she served as a nurse, coming to the United States in 1922. Like the hard-working 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 forgotten world: an idyllic rural life which is far superior to city life. The Good Master is an wonderful story. It is filled with a sense of comforting and industrious family life, with everyone working for the common good, and pulling together despite the problems that come to the farm: long droughts, snow, and the accidents adventurous children have. The book is filled with quite a few details of Hungarian life at the turn of the 19th century.
Read more about The Good Master and its sequel, The Singing Tree here.