Category Archives: YA fiction

The Monday Book: THE SINGING TREE by Kate Seredy

This YA novel is actually the sequel to a famous children’s classic called The Good Master. Kate and Jansci are cousins introduced in that book, when Kate is sent to live with her father’s brother’s family because she’s a spoiled city girl who has been ill.

The Singing Tree is a much deeper book, detailing the experiences of the Hungarian farmers during World War I. The book deals in childlike innocence with topics such as anti-Jewish sentiment in Hungary, the power grab of Austria, the terrible opening of the war, and how Hungarians and Germans set themselves up for future enmity.

The farm where Marton Nagy (the good master) keeps his family safe, and later shelters neighbors who lose their farms, and then houses Russian prisoners of war who work the farm while he is in the army, and finally takes in a passel of German refugee children, is a big happy place. Part of why I like this book is its sappy “Sound of Music” plot twists. (For one example, a stray cat having kittens makes Kate detour the farm wagon to an army field hospital, where missing Uncle Marton is discovered as an amnesia patient. I know, right? Eye rolling.)

And yet throughout the book are these amazing moments of writing, where true horror is simply spoken out by the beloved characters in heartbreaking poetic ways. Marton tells his family the story of Christmas 2015, when soldiers on each side of the trench separating them from killing each other the next day began lighting candles.

Light a candle for Christmas Eve, men whispered and their very words seemed to turn into tiny stars as dozens and dozens, then hundreds of candles came forth from the knapsacks to be lighted and stuck in the snow…..

Kate sighed, a long, tremulous sigh: Oh that was beautiful! What happened after?

The candles burned down, Kate, and the–darkness closed in again. Let those who made war heard the story of what happened after. Let them see.” He lifted his arm and covered his eyes.

Lots of characters fill out the pages and the plot in lovely ways, like Uncle Moses the shopkeeper and Sergei the head of the Russian prisoners, and Mother, who is described in the title. She is the tree that shelters what turns out to be more than twenty people from five nationalities on their farm. Unbelievable, except, in Seredy’s masterful style, it is.

I loved this book as a child and found additional meaning to it as an adult. Give it a read.

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Filed under animal rescue, book reviews, Life reflections, reading, Wendy Welch, what's on your bedside table, writing, YA fiction

The Monday Book: THE LONG WINTER by Laura Ingalls Wilder

I found THE LONG WINTER at a thrift store, one of my first fun outings in a year involving non-socially-distant hiking. The title looks different when you’ve emerged from your chrysalis, post-vaxx and post-winter weather, to go do something with a friend.

Most American school children read this book before they graduate middle school. As a child I had the boxed set and devoured them over and over. It’s a little odd to read them as an adult and realize how much sweetness hides some truly terrible things.

Last night I read LONG WINTER in one sitting. How did I miss that sense of threat that pervades every chapter, as the family ticks down from the last of the butter to the last of the milk to the last of the flour to the last of the potatoes, to the last of the burnable fuel? The dawning realization of the townspeople that the train was not coming, the train that was their literal supply line, anchoring them out on the prairie with the safety of coal and already-ground wheat and other “new-fangled” things like kerosene. Ma’s ingenuity at producing a button lamp from axle grease. Pa buying the last two cans of oysters in town for Christmas dinner. The hay sticks that they burned as fast as they made them; twist hay to have the warmth to twist more hay.

And the darkness. The robbery that Pa participated in to get the supplies he came home with.The dying of the lamp on Christmas Night. The inability to buy flour or lumber at any price because “Banker Ruth bought it all.” What happened to Banker Ruth when winter was over, one wonders?

The heroism of Almanzo and Cap, going to buy wheat from a man in the middle of nowhere, is offset by the fact that Almanzo walled up 150 bushels of wheat before they left. So no one could ask him to buy it.

It is a different book as an adult than as a child. I’ve observed there are several rewrites and washouts of these American classics over time, based on racist overtones and the charming overwrites of things like being illegally in Indian territory, or quite possibly murdering a railroad employee, etc. You know, these are still American classics. Just, now that I can see what wasn’t meant to be visible to children, I appreciate Wilder’s two-layer genius in writing all the more. She told the whole story, twice at the same time, for two different audiences. Gonna go back and read the rest of these now.

Yep, American classics: fear, prejudices, frontier justice, snowball fights, family spirit, and all.

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Filed under book reviews, Life reflections, post-apocalypse fiction, small town USA, Wendy Welch, writing, YA fiction