A boy growing up in 1930s Warsaw determines to become a wizard and succeeds—but at a price.
Korczak is memorialized as the Jewish pediatrician, progressive child psychologist and author who accompanied the children in his Warsaw ghetto orphanage to their deaths in a concentration camp. The Polish government declared 2012 the year of Janusz Korczak, marking the 70th anniversary of his death, and now his 1933 children’s book has been translated into English for the first time. The story is riveting, complex and thought-provoking. Young Kaytek, filled with the fairy tales his mother and grandmother tell him, wants to take control of his life and begins to study wizardry. His magic soon turns his streets, his school and all of Warsaw topsy-turvy and even draws the attention of the League of Nations. After an ocean voyage, a brief film career in Hollywood, imprisonment and transformation into a dog, Kaytek returns home a wiser, more responsible and more humane person. The translation is excellent, and notes are provided to help readers understand local customs and geography. Unfortunately, the book suffers from mid-20th-century European racism, particularly in its attitude toward Africa and Africans. Students of children’s literature will find the book and the afterword illuminating. Children will need to place it in historical perspective. Illustrated with full-page black-and-white art.
Fascinating but flawed. (translator’s afterword, references) (Historical fantasy. 12 & up)