HOME SCHOOL BOOK REVIEW
Book: The Singing Tree
Author and Illustrator: Kate Seredy
Publisher: Puffin Books, reissued 1990
Language level: 2
(1=nothing objectionable; 2=common euphemisms and/or childish slang terms; 3=some cursing and/or profanity; 4=a lot of cursing and/or profanity; 5=obscenity and/or vulgarity)
Recommended reading level: Ages 12-16
Rating: ***** 5 stars
(5 stars=EXCELLENT; 4 stars=GOOD; 3 stars=FAIR; 2 stars=POOR; 1 star=VERY POOR; no stars=NOT RECOMMENDED)
Reviewed by Wayne S. Walker
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Seredy, Kate. The Singing Tree (published in 1939 by The Viking Press; reissued in 1990 by Puffin Books, an imprint of the Penguin Group, a division of Penguin Books USA Inc., 375 Hudson St., New York City, NY 10014). It is 1914, and thirteen year old Jancsi Nagy lives on a large Hungarian ranch with his father Marton, mother, and almost-thirteen cousin Kate, whose father, Sandor Nagy, lives and teaches school in the nearby village. Father has given Jancsi permission to be in charge of his own herd. Then Archduke Ferdinand of the Austro-Hungarian Empire is assassinated by a Serbian, war breaks out, and Hungary must send troops to fight in the Great War (World War I). When Jancsi’s father and uncle are both called to battle, who will take care of the ranch? How will the lives of Jancsi, Kate, their family, and their friends be affected, especially with the arrival of six Russian prisoners, six German refugee children, and Mrs. Nagy’s parents? Will Jancsi’s and Kate’s fathers return home?
Now promoted as “Book 2 of 2 in the Kate and Jancsi Series,” The Singing Tree, a Newbery Honor book in 1940, is, more simply put, a sequel to author and illustrator Kate Seredy’s 1936 Newbery Honor Book The Good Master. Set in rural Hungary four years after The Good Master, it continues the account of Kate and Jancsi, showing the effect of World War I on the people and land. There are a couple of common euphemisms (gosh, confounded) and a few references to drinking wine and dancing. One can find many living books for the American Revolution, the War Between the States, and World War II, but it is not as easy to find living books about World War I. This story is an excellent fictional source that will help students learn about and relate to that particular time period.
Kirkus Reviews gave the novel a starred review for “books of remarkable merit,” saying that it “might well be a candidate for the Nobel Prize for Peace.” Seredy suffered physically and emotionally from the effects of nursing on the front during World War I, and she drew on her experience in several of her books. She did not confine her story to showing only the problems of war for one side, and was one of the first children’s writers to deal with the problems of the alien during war times. This is not a patriotic story but a picture of the damage that war does to people and the land. Through Jancsi and Kate, who are still living happily on their farm in Hungary, we are introduced to beloved friends in the town, as well as local customs which mark the time and preserve their culture. Readers will learn much about rural life in central Europe and a little about the Great War, especially nowadays, when youngsters are really not taught much of anything about the First World War.