First English Translation of Kaytek the Wizard – Janusz Korczak’s Timeless Tale
“Who would you like to be when you grow up?” Janusz Korczak asked a class of boys. “A wizard,” one of them replied. The others started laughing, and the boy felt embarrassed, so he added: “I’m sure I’ll be a judge like my father, but you asked who we’d like to be.” That was in 1929, and four years later Kaytek the Wizard, the story of a wayward boy who develops extraordinary magical powers, was first published in Polish.
When Kaytek the Wizard was released in 1933, itoffered 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.
Janusz Korczak (1879–1942) was the pen name of Dr. Henryk Goldszmit, a pediatrician and child psychologist who famously ran a central Warsaw orphanage on innovative educational principles. Korczak left behind a large written legacy, including books on education, plays, essays, letters, and of course, novels and stories for children, including King Matt the First.
Kaytek has previously been published in German, Spanish, Hebrew, and most recently French. This first English translation of Kaytek the Wizard coincides with the Polish Parliament’s declaration of 2012 as “The Year of Janusz Korczak.” This year contains two important anniversaries connected with Korczak: the 70th anniversary of his death – heroically accompanying the children of his orphanage – in the Treblinka concentration camp, and the 100th anniversary of the founding of his orphanage on Krochmalna Street in Warsaw.
The Magic of Kaytek
Kaytek, a schoolboy who wants to become a wizard, is surprised to discover that, with practice, he is able to perform magic spells and change reality. With prospects of mischief in mind, he conceals his powers and playfully causes strange incidents in his school and neighborhood. Though harmless at first, Kaytek’s antics and increasing abilities soon wreak major chaos around the city of Warsaw, and the police start searching for the cause.
Disillusioned, Kaytek leaves the country and wanders the world in search of the meaning of his unique abilities and their consequences. As Kaytek experiences a loss of innocence, the tone of the story and the accompanying illustrations get steadily darker. 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.
The release of Kaytek the Wizard marks the debut of Penlight Publications, a boutique publisher of quality fiction and insightful works.
Antonia Lloyd-Jones is a translator of Polish literature. Her published translations from Polish include novels by Pawel Huelle and Olga Tokarczuk, short stories by Jaroslaw Iwaszkiewicz, and nonfiction by Ryszard Kapuscinski 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 since 1990. He lives in Ramat Gan, Israel.