Kaytek the Wizard
By Janusz Korczak
First English translation
Published in Polish in 1933
Translated by Antonia Lloyd-Jones
Illustrated by Avi Katz
Published by Penlight Publications (2012)
Kaytek, a mischievous schoolboy who wants to become a wizard, is surprised to discover that he is able to perform magic spells and change reality. He begins to lead a double life: a powerful wizard in the dress of an ordinary boy. It's all great fun using magic to cause strange incidents in his school and neighbourhood, but soon Kaytek's increasing powers cause major chaos around the city of Warsaw.
Disillusioned, he leaves the country and wanders the world in search of the meaning of his good intentions, his unique abilities, and their consequences. Revolving around the notion that power is not without responsibility, nor without repercussions, this story speaks to every child's dream of freeing themselves from the endless control of adults, and shaping the world to their own designs.
When Kaytek the Wizard was released in 1933, it offered a new perspective on children, their dreams, complexities, and abilities. Korczak, a renowned pioneer of children's rights, was one of the first modern writers to imagine a child as a full and complex wizard figure. As such, Kaytek the Wizard was a precursor to Harry Potter, and Korczak's fiction has been described as having been as well-known as Peter Pan in his day.
The story is riveting, complex and thought-provoking. Young Kaytek, filled with the fairy tales his mother and grandmother tell him, wants to take control of his life and begins to study wizardry. His magic soon turns his streets, his school and all of Warsaw topsy-turvy and even draws the attention of the League of Nations. After an ocean voyage, a brief film career in Hollywood, imprisonment and transformation into a dog, Kaytek returns home a wiser, more responsible and more humane person. The translation is excellent, and notes are provided to help readers understand local customs and geography…. Students of children’s literature will find the book and the afterword illuminating.
Harry Potter, step aside. The young hero of Kaytek the Wizard by Janusz Korczak... has sufficient power to transform his gluttonous classmate’s breakfast into a frog and then to soar skyward and land on the roof of a Warsaw tram. As his proficiency at magic increases, he explores a complex cosmos, interacting with Africans and Americans and zooming across oceans and continents.
The author is the legendary Holocaust hero who voluntarily accompanied the Jewish children of his orphanage to Treblinka. This first English publication of his enduring classic grants Korczak a posthumous victory of a kind. Readers will learn that boy wizards, like all children, must tread carefully as they navigate their way through a complex world.
Janusz Korczak was the pen name by which Dr. Henrik Goldschmid (1878-1942), a Polish-Jewish physican was universally known. The author of enormously popular children's books (including King Matt the First, the characters of which were pictured on Polish stamps) and a beloved radio personality, he was an educator who run two orphanages the philosophy of which was guided principals enunciated in the Declaration of Children's Rights he authored. He devoted his life to children. During the German occupation of Poland, he and the Jewish children of one of his orphanages were made to move to the Warsaw Ghetto which the Germans created in Warsaw. One of the most complex and tragic figures of the Holocaust, he continued to ran his home for Jewish orphans in the Ghetto, until he and his charges were transported to Treblinka in 1942. Korczak aroused controversy because of his policy of non-violent resistance and his martyrdom. Though efforts were made to save his life by having him secretly leave the Ghetto, he refused, feeling unable to let the children in his orphanage be taken to Treblinka without him to comfort them. Thus he and his children were transported to the death camp in August 1942. His heroism was immortalized in Andrzej Wajda's 1990 film "Korczak."
Antonia Lloyd-Jones is a translator of Polish literature. Her published translations from Polish include novels by Paweł Huelle and Olga Tokarczuk, short stories by Jarosław Iwaszkiewicz, and nonfiction by Ryszard Kapuściński and Wojciech Tochman. Her translations of poetry have appeared in periodicals including the Edinburgh Review. She lives in London, England.
Avi Katz is an award-winning illustrator and editorial cartoonist. He has illustrated over 150 children's books, of which four were IBBY Andersen Honor Award winners, four won Sydney Taylor Notables, and one won the National Jewish Book Award. Avi's illustrations have appeared in many newspapers and magazines, and he has been the illustrator of The Jerusalem Report Magazine ever since 1990. He lives in Ramat Gan, Israel.