KING MATT THE FIRST by Janusz Korczak
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First published in 1923, a Bildungsroman about a boy king who tries to reform society by making it more responsive to children. Born in 1878, Korczak was a pediatrician and director of both Catholic and Jewish orphanages; he died at Treblinka, having refused to abandon his charges. This moving tale reflects the philosphy of a generous social conscience. Simply told, it is full of action and events, like sending the adults to school while the children run the country, which appeal to young readers. Matt is a winning character, fair-minded, persevering, sweet. He begins with such simple acts as giving all the children chocolate, but his world (it resembles postwar Poland) has real-life problems as well. As Matt's reforms become more sophisticated, the problems become more complex, until the dynamics of economics and diplomacy have been explored with some subtlety. War proves to be a cruel mechanism through which Matt's enemies cause his downfall. Matt's African friends will give modern readers pause: Korczak exaggerated the prevailing stereotype of the savage, uncivilized cannibal. On the other hand, he endowed his black characters with intelligence and open-mindedness. Based on political theory, this will not be widely read by children; but as a beautifully conceived, benevolent satire it deserves to be available to all ages.

Pub Date: March 31st, 1986
ISBN: 1565124421
Page count: 330pp
Publisher: Farrar, Straus & Giroux