Even though we already finished one 1930s Newbery Award winner for the Newbery Through the Decades challenge in February, I decided we could sneak in one more before the end of the month. Thimble Summer was a quick read, and I hadn’t planned ahead for the next bedtime read-aloud for Miss M and I. The White Stag by Kate Seredy has been on my shelves for quite a while, though I was thinking of saving it for a few months from now to match up with our history studies. But, I’m glad I decided to grab this 1938 Newbery winner to enjoy right now.
Over the past year or so I’ve become a huge fan of Kate Seredy’s work. We read The Good Master, The Singing Tree and The Chestry Oak last year as historical fiction to match up with our history studies (We were focusing on American history, but read these European-focused works when we were at the corresponding time periods in our studies). As I impatiently await my very own copy of The Chestry Oak (It has been out of print for many years — we had to get it from ILL, and now it is soon to be reprinted!), I was getting antsy to read another book by Seredy.
As we read The White Stag, I didn’t feel so bad about not waiting until we reach the time of Atila the Hun in our history studies to read this mostly-fictional saga of Attila, his ancestors, and their sojurn across Europe and central Asia. In this work inspired by traditional Hungarian folk tales and mythology, Seredy weaves a surprisingly beautiful story of people migrating and conquering their way to a land promised to them by their god.
What really stood out to me in this story was Seredy’s amazing writing. I am not usually one to stop and marvel at an author’s word choice, but I found myself doing that several times while reading this book aloud:
“Soon came the coldest cruelest winter the Huns and Magyars had ever known. Snow lay thick on the ground for months and the icy northerly winds howled like malignant demons. When spring finally came, the thawing snow swelled the rivers into raging torrents impossible to cross. Unwonted idleness began to chafe the restless spirit of the warriors.” (p. 56)
“The wild mountains of Altain-Ula were but a legend to the Huns, the years by the misty blue lake only a fading memory. The past lived in songs, the present in their flashing swords, and the future in their hearts. The future was ‘a land between two great rivers, surrounded by mountains.'” (p. 80)
I’m not sure if these quotes quite convey it when separated from the rest of the text, but Seredy’s descriptive, beautiful language make this story feel like a sweeping epic even though it is told in only 93 pages (including pages taken up with Seredy’s equally beautiful and detailed illustrations). This book is definitely more than worth the short amount of time it takes to read.