The Good Master, set in pre-WWI Hungary, won the Newbery Honor Award in 1935. Interestingly, Kate Seredy wrote and illustrated the book. And the illustrations are amazing! They bring life to the book. When I picked up this book as an adult, I immediately remembered every single illustration – and I spent quite a while just browsing each chapter heading and examining each illustration while I thought about how to teach this novel. The illustrations are gorgeously detailed and immediately take the reader back to another time of peace and idyllic country life in beautiful Hungary.
Kate arrives from the city of Budapest at her uncle’s ranch in the Hungarian plains, with plans to stay for the summer. Initially, the family believes she is in delicate health and must rest. In fact, the family discovers that Kate is a healthy, headstrong, fiercely independent and determined young girl. Kate and her cousin Jancsi have a memorable summer, with adventurous rides on wild horses, journeys across the plains to tend to the animals, a perilous run-in with gypsies, a country fair, and a lot of good old-fashioned hard farm work on Father and Mother’s (Kate’s Uncle Márton and Auntie’s) ranch. Kate learns many lessons in her time living on the plains, taking care of farm chores and living with Jansci, Mother and Father. However, the story is about much more than one summer – it is about a way of life, values, and ideals and finding happiness in family and simple joys in life.
Fabulous quotes for discussion (page numbers refer to the Puffin Newbery Library Edition):
‘”You know, Jancsi, I think something wonderful has happened,” said Father thoughtfully. “It’s such an everyday story to us. We know that seeds will grow into plants. But how? Why? What makes them? To Kate it’s a miracle–and so it is. Look at those tiny seedlings. See how they struggle up through heavy clumps of earth to reach the light and sun. We are so used to it that we take it for granted, instead of getting on our knees to thank the Lord for another gift!”‘ (page 86)
“Follow the mirage of wealth until you perish, and may it remain there forever out of reach, to warn men against greed and cruelty!” (page 80)…..”Like so many things men follow blindly,’ said Father thoughtfully, “wealth, power, pleasure.” (page 81)
“You must be blind, Prince Mátyás. If the things you saw on your journey failed to open your eyes, if they failed to teach you where you have to go and what you have to do to live forever, I am not going to fail. I shall take you to the land of your dreams.” (page 170)…..”Prince Mátyás, this is your own country. This is the land where you will never die. Be a good king to your people, be a good neighbor to your neighbors. Love your people and work for them as they work for you. Then you will live in their memory, in their tales, songs, in their hearts, forever and ever. This is the only place in the world where you can live forever–your own country!” (page 171)
Kate and Jancsi
How do we learn about Kate’s real character? She is supposed to be in “delicate health” and in need of rest in the countryside. But what do Father, Mother, and Jansci quickly find out about Kate? What words would you use to describe Kate? How is Kate surprised by her country cousins and their way of living? How does Kate change throughout the novel?
How is Jansci similar to Kate? How is Jansci different? Do his feelings about Kate change throughout the story? How does Jansci feel about Kate at the end of the book? How do you know his feelings?
The Countryside and the City
Kate is surprised at the country side and her cousin’s house. What things are surprising for Kate? How is life in the country different from the life Kate has in the city?
What are the values of life in the country? How is this preferable to a life in the city for Father, Mother and Jansci?
Stories within a Story – Hungarian Folktales
- Little Rooster and the Diamond Button (you can also find two picture book versions of this tale: Little Rooster’s Diamond Button and The Little Rooster and the Diamond Button)
- Mirage and the story of greed (fable with moral)
- Milky Way (The Skyway of the Warriors – Attila and Csaba)
Easter is a significant holiday in Hungary, with a rich history of traditions that many people follow today.
Traditional Dress (photos of traditional dresses including the many layered skirts that Kate & Jansci’s mother wear in the book)
- Why does Father call Kate a “wolf in sheep’s clothing?”
- Why are Father and Mother and Jansci surprised by Kate? How is she different from what they thought she would be, based on Uncle’s letter?
- Kate learns many things in the novel. What are some of the lessons that Kate learns?
- Who is the Good Master?
Please share, have you read The Good Master? Or the sequel, The Singing Tree?