As far as I know, King Matt the First is a novel for children like no one other around. I was particularly glad to get this book as a present from my girlfriend.
Being rather fond of Polish literature lately, I have to confess how I had never heard before about this book as well as its author.
This ignorance of mine made the surprise even greater.
And yet King Matt is apparently a milestone in children books in Poland, while Janusz Korczak himself was a famous pedagogist with an interesting personal story and brave ideas on how to educate the young generations.
What I appreciated of this book is the way it treats its young readers. There is no need to hide unpleasant things of life like war, death or even bad-mouth speaking behind a marzipan made curtain. Korczak explains many things in a patient and peculiar way skilfully managing to don't be didactical or paternalist.
Of course there is a moral also behind "King Matt the First" but children are required to get it by themselves, page after page.
At the same time boys (this book may bore girls, I guess) grew up somehow with Matt who's not the succesful young hero he could have been, but as a child makes mistakes and sometimes behaves irrationally and with impulsiveness.
Another thing I liked is Korczak ability in being modern. He wrote this book in the 1920s and set up war descriptions based partly on WWI put also anticipating some aspects of WWII. There are automobiles, planes, strategic seaports to get and a key-role played by the mass media.
And I was almost falling off from my chair when I read about "red flags" punctuating a strike parade and being explained has "the flag of workers worldwide". Finding those lines in a children book without any socialist message hidden somewhere was a pleasant thrill.
As a reader of the English version, I had the impression of a very good and careful translation with just a few forgetfulnesses while leaving some things in original Polish and others not. I mean, I don't think many people out of Poland knows that the "kielbasa" is a kind of sausage, while choosing to change the name of the protagonist from Maciuś to Matt, I don't get why other typical names such as Tomek, Felek, etc. were left the same.
But, hey! This is just pedantry of mine: on the whole I highly enjoyed this book. And if I had a 5-6 years old son/daughter I would probably try to read him/her the adventures of King Matt the Reformer. There would surely be many questions to answer in order to explain how many grown-up things work, but whys are the salt of childhood.