Seven young boys live in a Polish village that is occupied by soldiers during World War One. All they have ever known is their tiny corner of the world. They amuse themselves by roving about in a pack and exploring the nearby forest. Jurek is their ringleader, and he dares the others to find the best button off the coats of dead soldiers. The winner of the contest will be king, and the others will have to bow down to him.
There are soldiers everywhere – their own Polish soldiers, the Russian soldiers that occupy their village, and the German soldiers who come later. At first it’s fun, but as time goes on, Patryk and the other boys realize that their game is becoming quite dangerous. They want to quit, but Jurek has become obsessed with becoming the winner, and refuses to let them quit.
The story is well-written but depressing. It shows the effects of war on children who don’t fully comprehend the situation they are in. It also clearly shows how easily one child can manipulate many others. Although the book is meant for children, its grimness makes it a poor choice for pre-teens to read.