Monday, May 21, 2012

BOOK REVIEW: King Matt the First*

I felt much like King Matt, who stayed up until all hours of the night working on reforms and reading letters or worrying about his upcoming decisions for his country, two nights ago when I sat up reading the last chapters of the book about him called “King Matt the First” by Janusz Korczak. 

Hailed as “One of the greatest children’s books ever written” by Esme Raji Codell on the cover, with other glowing reviews from the late Maurice Sendak and Yann Martel (author of Life of Pi) I was ready to dive into an incredible book.   The story follows the highs and lows of young Matt, a prince orphaned at a young age and left with the task of ruling a country as it’s king (an unnamed European nation).  Matt feels pigeonholed between his own wishes for change, his desire to play and have fun like normal kids, traditions of royalty, and the advice of his ministers.  As he continues on his journey, running off to fight at the front and meeting the “sad king”, Matt matures and really takes his place as ruler.  After these experiences we see Matt blossom.  However this is not to say that Matt is perfect or the ideal child or ruler, he makes mistakes and has flaws, but that is something the book is trying to tell its readers, that there is no black and white, there is a large gray space in life. 

I must admit that at times the reading seemed to go a bit slowly, but the story is written in such a way that I don’t think you will really put it aside because you want to know what will happen to Matt, will his attempts to lead his country succeed, are his ministers there for the good of the people or do they have personal motives, will Matt return from the “land of the cannibals”, how will the children’s parliament turn out, and most importantly will Matt’s country be taken to war once again, and who can Matt really trust?

I definitely recommend this book, for ages 10 and up and I it would be a great read aloud!  Also, look up the author because he has an amazing and inspiring story, here’s a quick link to Wikipedia for a brief overview of his life:  

Interesting image I found on inspired by King Matt the First, great commentary on how Matt begins, simply a child puppet of the ministers, but does he stay this way? Read it for yourself and find out:

* Thanks to Emily Murphy who's teaching a course this fall at the University of Florida on Golden Age Children's literature, I found this book when I came across the text list for her class and King Matt was on it!  I had never heard of it before or of Janusz Korczak, so thanks!  


  1. I really like that puppet illustration. I'd like to see a book full of illustrations like that!

    1. Definitely, that would be really amazing!

  2. Looks like a great book that I'll have to add to my list!