Janusz Korczak dedicated his life to children. Gloria Spielman's book, Janusz Korczak's Children, introduces young readers to this uniquely caring, giving and heroic doctor.
From the age of five, little Marcel knew he wanted to be a silent actor, just like Charlie Chaplin. World War II came, changing Marcel's life, but it didn't stop his dream of becoming a mime artist and entertaining the world.
Writers can often be found either talking to themselves or to imaginary characters that exist only in their heads (crazy people). Given the extensive experience I’ve had of talking to myself I decided to interview myself.
Me: So where did you get the idea of writing about Janusz Korczak from?
Myself: Well Me, it all started way back when my daughter Gabriella was in third grade. She came home from school and said. “We have to do a project on Janusz Korczak for Holocaust Day.” (Translation: You have to do a project …) I thought, ‘Mmm, Janusz Korczak sounds familiar. I dredged up some deeply buried memory of a university history class. Wasn’t he that Polish bloke (that’s British for what you Americans call ‘guy’.) who ran an orphanage and died with the kids in a concentration camp?) Gabriella and I sat down at the computer and starting looking for information. It turned out I was right. He was that Polish bloke with the orphanage who died with his orphans but there was so much more to his story. We finished Gabriella’s project, but I carried on reading. I read and read and read and thought wow this would make a great children’s story.
Me: Why was that?
Myself: He was a children’s doctor, a children’s advocate, a children’s writer. His life revolved around making the world a better place for children. He also seemed to have quite a mischievous, rebellious streak that I thought would appeal to children.
Me: You write mainly about his life, only bringing in the holocaust right at the end.
Myself: It was very important to me not to focus on the holocaust. I wanted to build up a picture of the man and his life not his death. Korczak was 64 when he died. He’d lived a rich life. I wanted to tell the story of a life not a death. The yardstick for me was that his was a story that should been told even if he had died a natural death. Naturally, it is part of his story but not the only part as is often the case.
Me: What were the challenges?
Myself: This was a particularly rich story. He was so many things in one person – doctor, orphanage director writer, advocate, radio star, newspaper publisher. It was a challenge to work it all into a 1,500 word book. And a challenge to know what to leave out.
Me: Tell us something you didn’t include.
The fact that he actually ran two orphanages at the same time. In the book I tell about the Jewish orphanage but he also ran an orphanage for Catholic children. The fact that he left the orphanage
Me :What’s the most inspiring thing you learned about Dr. Korczak?
Myself: There was so much but one of my favorite stories was something I heard in a talk by the artist 'Yitzchak Belfer', a graduate of the orphanage. He told of how as a young boy he was always drawing in class. Instead of telling him 'stop drawing and concentrate', as so many teachers do, Korczak prepared for him a cupboard full of art supplies where he could sit and draw in peace. He gave him the key and told him that he could come there whenever he wanted to draw. I loved the idea of encouraging a child's creativity instead of stifling it.
Me: What’s the best piece of writing advice someone ever gave you?
Myself: Again, there were so many but if I have to choose it would be the quote attributed to E.B White. "A writer who waits for ideal conditions under which to work will die without putting a word to paper." I have that one pinned above my computer!