King Matt the First

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Algonquin Books, 2004 - Juvenile Fiction - 330 pages
2 Reviews
Janusz Korczak was a Polish physician and educator who wrote over twenty books--his fiction was in his time as well known as Peter Pan, and his nonfiction works bore passionate messages of child advocacy. During World War II, the Jewish orphanage he directed was relocated to the Warsaw ghetto. Although Korczak's celebrity afforded him many chances to escape, he refused to abandon the children. He was killed at Treblinka along with the children.

King Matt the First, one of Korczak's most beloved tales, is the story of a boy who becomes king and sets out to reform his kingdom. He decrees that all children are to be given a piece of chocolate at the end of each day. He visits faraway lands and befriends cannibal kings. Whenever his ministers tell him something's impossible, he puts them in jail. He disguises himself as a soldier and becomes a hero. But, as in real life, fantasy is tempered by reality:Matt's fellow kings become jealous of his success--and in the end, Matt falls, although it's clear that he was the greatest king there ever was.

Now this rediscovered classic is available again, and with a vibrant new cover by award-winning artist Brian Selznick. This timeless tale shows that only through the honesty and spontaneity of children can grown-ups begin to imagine and to create a better world.
 

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King Matt the First

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Korczak, a well-known Warsaw pediatrician who ran an orphanage in the Warsaw Ghetto during Hitler's occupation, eventually accompanied the orphans to Treblinka and died alongside them. His strong ... Read full review

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King Matt - A Beloved Classic by the King of Children
A review by Daniel L. Berek
Were one to associate a book and a fictional character with Janusz Korczak, it would certainly be Krol Macius
, King Matthew. His likeness appeared on a series of Polish stamps commemorating his creator, along with a German post card. He saw himself as a leader, through the eyes of the child, King Matt. This is especially true of the often-related accounts of his final march through the Warsaw Ghetto, in silent protest providing comfort to the orphans in his care to the very end, as they boarded the cattle cars that would take them to Treblinka.
To understand both the story and the character of King Matt, it helps to be familiar with the author himself. Janusz Korczak was the pen name of Henryk Goldszmit, born July 20, 1879, in Warsaw, Poland. He was a quiet, thoughtful, studious young boy. Though he grew up in a comfortable, middle-class apartment, he was interested in playing with the working-class children of the street. Two events should have shattered his ideals. First, a group of street urchins teased the young Henryk mercilessly when he went outside to bury his beloved pet canary, taunting him with vicious anti-Semitic slurs. Second, Henryk's father succumbed to a psychiatric illness and had to be institutionalized, leaving the once prosperous family nearly penniless. Ever resourceful, Henryk turned those tragic events into opportunities, mainly by putting his love for children to use as a tutor for the children of the rich and poor alike, charging only what their parents could afford, even though the responsibility of supporting the family was primarily his.
In a similar vein, "King Matt," Matthew's father dies, suddenly leaving the responsibility of ruling the kingdom to the young boy. Poor Matt quickly realizes what a hostile place the adult world is for a child - a major theme in nearly every one of Korczak's writings. His ministers fight among themselves and try various tricks to deceive the boy king. Indeed, they question his authority, quite a reversal from the viewpoint of most adults, who are more concerned with children questioning their authority. Although the royal palace is teeming with officials and servants, Matt finds himself feeling very lonely indeed. That is, at least, until he befriends a boy at the edge of the royal gardens. Matt is very curious to find out more, so he disguises himself as a child of the palace under the false name Tomek. The boy introduces himself as Felek. They become good friends, but must do so in secrecy, as the palace elders deem it undesirable that the king associate himself with local working-class riff-raff. More than ever, Matt is convinced that, as king, he must rule his kingdom in a way that would be a good place for children, where they would be respected and taken seriously as, in the words of Korczak, "not people tomorrow, but people today." His reforms include carousels in every town, summer camps in the country that poor children might enjoy nature, toys and candy for those children who deserve but cannot afford such things. Further, children should have autonomy, a say in how things are run. Send the adults back to school and have the children work for a living. Of course, the adults protest about the boring work they have to endure in the schools. The people of his kingdom are not happy. And things become even worse, when the rulers of neighboring kingdoms declare war on King Matt. Matt (disguised as Tomek) and Felek go and fight on the front lines. Matt even undertakes a perilous journey to Africa to elicit the help of the cannibal king and his daughter, Klu Klu. As a side note, Korczak does not shy away from prejudice, among both the white and the black characters. After all, such prejudice is rampant in real life, a fact that Korczak himself knew all too well. (Reviewers of this book who do not know about Korczak have accused him of bias, an unfair and untrue accusation.) Despite the mutual
 

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Contents

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About the author (2004)

Janusz KorczakK wrote the classic children’s book King Matt the First and many nonfiction works. To mark the centennial of Korczak’s birth, the United Nations declared 1979 the International Year of the Child and dedicated it to him. Korczak perished in 1942 in Treblinka, along with the Jewish orphans he refused to abandon.

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