Born 10 November 1896, Budapest, Hungary; died 7 March 1975, Montgomery, New York
Daughter of Louis P. and Anna Irany Seredy
Kate Seredy was the daughter of a well-known Hungarian teacher and storyteller. She attended the Academy of Art in Budapest for six years, receiving an art teacher's diploma. During World War I, she served for two years as a nurse in frontline hospitals, an experience which left her ill in body and spirit and caused her to become a confirmed pacifist. In 1922 Seredy emigrated to the U.S., where she earned a living by illustrating lampshades, greeting cards, and sheet music, moving on gradually to fashion design and magazine and book illustration. Seredy illustrated books by other writers—including Carol Ryrie Brink's Newbery Medal-winning Caddie Woodlawn—as well as her own.
Seredy's most highly acclaimed works rose out of her memories of her Hungarian childhood and the stories her father told her. When Seredy was nine years old, she accompanied her father on a trip to the countryside, where they studied peasant art and life.
The Good Master (1935), Seredy's first and most popular book, is the humorous, episodic story of wild, spoiled, motherless Cousin Kate from Budapest (Seredy herself), who goes to live with her uncle, called "the Good Master" for his wise and gentle ways, his wife, and son, Jancsi, on their horse ranch on the Hungarian plains. Kate gets caught up in the pleasures and responsibilities of farm life, and she calms down and develops a sounder set of values.
A sequel, the more serious The Singing Tree (1939), takes Kate through World War I, when Jancsi's father must join the army and the boy is left in charge of the ranch, which becomes a refuge for family, neighbors, and war orphans.
The White Stag (1937) is a stirring retelling of the legendary founding of Hungary. The twins, Magyar and Hunor, Hunor's son Bendeguz, and his son Attila, lead their tribes from their ancient home in Asia steadily westward until they reach their promised land along the Danube. This spirited and rhythmical account of wars and hardships, the drama of the conquest heightened by bold, sweeping drawings, was awarded the John Newbery Medal in 1938.
By contrast with these strongly conceived books, Seredy's novels with American settings seem contrived, shallow, and dated. The most convincing of them, with its sense of history and closeness to nature, is the earliest, Listening (1936), the story of the old Dutch colonial house in the Ramapo Mountains of New Jersey in which Seredy lived for a time.
While such values as love of family, respect for authority and the aged, pleasure in hard work, and faith in God reappear throughout Seredy's writings, overriding themes involve confidence in the ultimate goodness of human beings and a deep affection for the soil. The greatest evil is war, a senseless business which hurts most the simple people who are never responsible for bringing it about. Descriptive passages are highly poetic and are particularly rich in visual imagery. Seredy writes with an artist's eye, drawing details from nature and folk life and art. Although didacticism and sentimentality sometimes get in the way of the narrative, the best of Seredy's writing has auditory and visual qualities which draw readers in and carry them along.
A Tree for Peter (1941). The Open Gate (1943). The Chestry Oak (1948). Gypsy (1952). Philomena (1955). The Tenement Tree (1959). A Brand-New Uncle (1961). Lazy Tinka (1962).
CB (1940). Junior Book of Authors (1951). Newbery Medal Books:1922-1955 (1955). SAA (1971).
Elementary English (1968). Horn Book (1968).
—ALETHEA K. HELBIG