Sonderbooks Book Reviews by Sondra Eklund

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*****= An all-time favorite
****  = Outstanding
***    = Above average
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*        = Good, with reservations


****King Matt the First

by Janusz Korczak

translated by Richard Lourie

Reviewed June 19, 2005.
Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill, 2004.  First published in Polish in 1923.  330 pages.

King Matt the First is the story of a boy who becomes king and learns how difficult ruling can be.  Matt does some of the things you might expect in a child’s fantasy of being a king—passing out chocolate to all the children, giving a kind girl the largest doll in the world, even making the grown-ups go to school while the children take over their jobs.  Matt also goes off to war in disguise to learn what war is actually like.  He visits a cannibal king in Africa, and bravely travels in an airplane in the days when such travel was fraught with danger.

Matt wishes to be a Reformer, and tries to do a good job as a ruler.  However, all of his actions have unintended consequences, and he learns just how difficult ruling can be.

This book is a lot of fun and presents some challenging ideas—showing that even the most well-intended actions have consequences.  It’s old-fashioned and not at all politically correct, with the Africans portrayed as savages and showing that they have become good by wear European clothes.  I’m not sure if kids today will at first understand the significance of Matt establishing a parliament, but they will at least see the consequences.

I didn’t like the ending of the book at all.  It’s sad, abrupt, and leaves lots of questions unanswered.  It almost feels like the author simply got tired of writing the story and didn’t know what to do next.

All the same, it’s an interesting, entertaining, and enlightening book.  I’m going to offer it to my ten-year-old son next.  This is close to being a young adult book, with many heavy themes.  Yet the fun is at a child’s level, with the time off school and gifts of chocolate and trips to the zoo being exciting rewards.

Copyright © 2005 Sondra Eklund.  All rights reserved.

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