Gentle advice makes beautiful book

Published 12:00 am Friday, January 12, 2007

“Loving Every Child,” by Janus Korczak, edited by Sandra Joseph. Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill. 2007. 84 pp. $10.95.

By Mary Rice Patterson

For the Salisbury Post

“Loving Every Child” is filled with axioms on parenting and is subtitled “Wisdom for Parents,” with a foreword by Ari L. Goldman.

It is a small, very attractive book that would make a great gift or one to add to your coffee table. If a guest picks it up and reads only one great truth, he will always remember it.

“Just listen to your son. He’ll teach you how to be a father.”

“When is the proper time for a child to start walking? When he does!”

“When should her teeth start cutting? When they do!”

“How many hours should a baby sleep? As long as she needs to!”

New parents are always looking for a code or plan to follow to get their baby well adjusted. Korczak writes, “What we must look like to a child! We’re so big. They’re so tiny. There’s only one way to talk to them. We ought to stoop and come down to his level.”

Children value little things more than they value us. Gaze into their pockets to see their treasures … pieces of string, nails, beads, pebbles … bits of colored glass, bird feathers, etc. Cherished belongings and dreams of a wonderful life. They love dogs, birds, butterflies and flowers. For them, the world is brand new and full of excitement and just waiting to be explored.

“They are not the people of tomorrow, but are people of today, and have a right to be taken seriously, to be treated with tenderness and respect and should be allowed to grow into whoever they are meant to be. The unknown person inside each of them is our hope for the future.

The last section of the book, titled “Who was this man?” tells of the life of Janusz Korczak, who not only understood the complexities of children but loved them dearly. Growing up in Warsaw, he changed his name from Goldezmit and broke away from the Jewish tradition, became a writer and tutor, giving private lessons to students who needed help. He wrote stories, satires and poems, selling them to newspapers and periodicals, winning competitions. Finally, he merged his writing career with medicine but worked mostly with disadvantaged children.

As a doctor, he specialized in pediatrics and worked in the Warsaw Children’s Hospital. He gained a great professional reputation among medical students so people came from far and wide to hear his lectures. Later he became the director of a new Jewish orphanage, living in the attic and receiving no salary.

Korczak continued to write children’s books that were translated into 20 languages. “King Matt the First” follows a little prince who inherits the crown of a kingdom and battles against all the injustices of the world, a book of rare insight.

As political conditions deteriorated, he visited Palestine, where some of his orphans had relocated. He sensed that the Jews of Poland were sitting on a tinderbox. On Sept. 1, 1939, the Germans invaded Poland. His orphans were moved and conditions became unbelievable but he would not leave his 200 charges.

This is a little book in size, but large in message and one of the most moving true stories I’ve ever read up to the end. You won’t forget it.

Mary Rice Patterson reads and writes in China Grove.