The Singing Tree

Book cover: 'The Singing Tree'
Kate Seredy
Puffin Newbery Library
Grade / Age level: 

The Singing Tree, sequel to The Good Master, is a much more serious story and takes place during World War I. Sandor, Kate's father, is drafted into the war and eventually, the Good Master, Marton Nagy, must report as well. The majority of the book tells of how the family gets along during the war years without the men of the family. Of course, Jancsi the young master steps up and, aided by a journal his father left for him, manages the farm quite well.

There is a difficult child, Lily, to be tamed in this story also, but she is easily won over by a set of puppies and the efforts of Kate and Jancsi. During the war, prisoners of war from Russia are brought into Hungary and Jancsi brings them to the farm to help with the work. A young woman and her new baby also come to live at the farm since her husband is in the war. Some orphans from the cities of Germany are sent out to the countryside and Jancsi takes them in as well. The household is lively and the wholesome life continues despite the terrible news from the war. Sandor is taken prisoner and put to work on a farm in Russia and Marton Nagy is missing in action. Jancsi, Kate and Lily travel to the front to rescue Jancsi's grandparents. Their home is near the front and the townspeople are fleeing the approaching Russians. While there, they accidently find Marton in a hospital bed. He had been injured and lost his memory. They triumphantly bring him home and he tells many stories about the war. One of the most moving is an often heard story about Christmas Eve where both sides sing Silent Night together and light matches to the newborn King. I have read the book at least ten times and cry every time I read that scene.

It is interesting to note that Hungary was on the "wrong" side in this war, yet in this story we see the people as victims of the political causes of a war which had nothing to do with them. One of the side effects of the war is an increase of racism among the people of the countryside who might not have otherwise been exposed to it. One of Mrs. Seredy's themes is that people, ordinary people, people of the land are the same in their hearts, no matter what nationality, and are connected by their shared humanity. She wrote the book in the late 1930's, on the verge of another war, and her tone is one of the hope of peace.

There is little, if any, other fiction for youth about World War I, so this work could be an important piece in a world history overview. My young children did not understand the political and nationalist themes of the story but enjoyed hearing it read tremendously. The reading level is fourth or fifth grade but it could be read at higher levels for the content.

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