For as long as anyone can remember, Jani’s village has been protected by magical kites, but they may have stopped working.
The children of the village no longer take the ancient story seriously: that the hundreds of kites flying high above the houses, day in, day out, protect the community from some untold danger. What good are kites? You can’t eat them and they don’t do any work for you.
Two eccentric, unmarried men work together to keep the kites flying, but the children suspect that they’re not quite right in the head. They goad the two men and, breaking all the rules, they head deeper and deeper into the forest. One day, one of the villagers meets a violent end and they hear terrible cries. Perhaps there’s some truth to the warnings of the strange men in the tower, after all…
Around this time, twelve-year-old Jani is asked to join the kite-flyers, so that he can take over from the older man. He will learn how to keep the hundreds of kites flying and how to repair them. This is no easy task and his teachers are strict. The very first time he sends up a kite, it breaks. As punishment, he has to make a new one without any help.
In the meantime, the unknown threat creeps almost imperceptibly closer. Ellen van Velzen deftly keeps the horror in the background. She shows how Jani struggles with his vocation, which will make it impossible for him to marry Moon, his girlfriend. In her contemporary style, she broaches the important themes of the classic children’s novel: friendship, being different, daring to follow your own path, letting go, sacrifice, and finally finding your place in the world.
For all its flights of fancy, Jonge Vlieger (The Young Kite Flyer) is not another in a list of magical books featuring wild chases on flying broomsticks, but a philosophical yet gripping story packed with original images, in which Van Velzen cleverly builds up the tension suggested by the title, maintaining the suspense until the surprise of the final few chapters.