The Chestry Oak is, in my opinion, the best piece of children’s literature – ever. Written and illustrated by Kate Seredy in 1948, this book has stood and will continue to stand the test of time. They say a picture is worth a thousand words – not so. This book uses words to create a masterpiece of ageless truths and ideals. Honor, courage, pride, the strength and resilience of the human spirit, boundless love, and, above all, unbreakable hope. Very few books are either beautiful or powerful enough to leap off the page, grab a reader by the collar, and hold him spellbound to the last line. The Chestry Oak is such a book. At once soul-stirringly powerful and heart-wrenchingly beautiful, this is fiction at its finest. Great literature changes us on the inside, changes us for the better. We need more boys, girls, men, and women like the little Hungarian prince.
The place: Chestry Valley, Hungary. The time: World War II. The principal players: little Prince Michael, his Nana, and his father, who is also a prince. The Chestry princes go back hundreds of years to a knight who fought with Saint Stephen against the infidels. Sir Michael was tasked with guarding King Stephen as he slept beneath a great oak (the Chestry Oak, as it would come to be known). For his courage and honor in carrying out his task, the King crowned Sir Michael a prince and gave him the little kingdom of Chestry Valley. Some several hundred years later and the princes of Chestry are facing another horde of infidels: the Nazis. Six year old Michael, or Miska as he is affectionately called, does not understand the ins and outs of war, or why the Nazis are living in his father’s castle, or who the man with the funny mustache is. And yet, he understands more than most of the grownups, for he is wise beyond his years.
Raised under the loving care of a nurse, Mari Vitez or “Nana,” Miska has been taught to distinguish right from wrong, courage from cowardice, honor from disgrace, and to always choose the higher path. Young as he is, the seeds of manhood have already been planted deep in his soul and his tender character is already firmly established on the side of good. To him, the only possible explanation for the wicked things the bad men are doing is that they are sick with a dreadful fever and cannot see the world right. That’s actually a pretty accurate way of looking at it. Michael, with the simplicity of a child, shows us all that we make things more complicated than they need to be. He also shows us what it means to stand in the courage of one’s convictions.
This book is a masterpiece for three reasons: 1. Kate Seredy’s impeccable mastery of the English language; 2. a gripping plot; and 3. the coupling of untarnished innocence and profound wisdom in our hero. It is truly a great book; I strongly urge you to read it for yourself.