Monday, January 14, 2013

Kaytek the Wizard by Janusz Korczak (1878-1942)

Originally published in Polish as "Kajtus Czarodziej" in 1933
Illustrated by Avi Katz
English translation by Antonia Lloyd-Jones
Published by Penlight Publications

At first glance only, I was not too taken with this book. I did not like the attitude or the smoking of this young boy. However, on realizing first that this was another era and second, that it was taking place in a different culture of which I knew little, I sat back and refocused. I'm glad I did.

Kaytek's real name is Antek, but a chance encounter changed his name, so as far as the schoolboys and Antek himself decided, he went by Kaytek. He is a boy who is very clever, too easily distracted, full of energy and questions, disruptive, and in general what we might say today as hyperactive or even ADHD.

Keeping in mind that he is growing up in pre-WWII Poland where poverty is prevalent and imagination is an escape, it is no wonder that Kaytek's only desire in life is to become a wizard. Through being a wizard, he comes to learn many of life's lessons as a result of his many failures due to lack of thinking things through.

The book has its charms, and is a good look at how children interact in a way we now call "bullying." Entertaining as it is, Kaytek often creates pandemonium with his wizardry. He must learn through his special abilities how to be rational, how to think of others, how to avoid capture, and so much more. On the flip side, we see how adults, particularly in this time period, treat children, use them as providers, physically abuse them, and allow them no rights.

Overall, once into the book I could soon see that it is basically a fable, a morality tale. We all grew up with similar books and stories, this one just happens to be more in depth and with more to say. I'm not sure what age this would appeal to now, 80 years later. Possibly 12 and over. It is an interesting read about a time and country not too many people in North America knew much about in the 1930s. There is a very good Translator's Afterword which  I found very compelling, explaining why and how the author, Janusz Korczak, a champion for childrens' rights, wrote a book of this nature.

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