Category: Children's Books

Philip Waechter
Der fliegende Jakob
[Flying Jacob]



​Jacob is different from other children. Instead of starting crawling, one day he just takes off and flies out of his pram. His parents are astonished, speechless, it’s not right to them somehow, rather peculiar. But they don’t have any choice in the matter; from then on their son flies over the roofs of the town. And his gift is not without its advantages: Jacob can pick the loveliest, juiciest cherries from the upper branches of a tree without needing a ladder.

One day, when his parents decide to book a holiday in the sunny South, Jacob does not want a plane ticket and decides to fly there himself. On the way he joins 83 birds en route to Africa, becoming part of a joyful and excited flock. Together they sail over vast landscapes in which a fox and a hare say goodnight, glide artfully between the tall buildings of a town and fly in a fish-formation for the anglers on the ground.

But this wonderful journey is rudely interrupted when one little bird falls into the clutches of the notorious bird-catcher, Mr Mörtel. Countless birds are imprisoned in his house, for he ‘just couldn’t get enough’ of their twittering. Jacob and his flock manage to outwit Mr Mörtel and to set free not only their missing comrade, but all the other feathered captives. Precisely how they achieve this will not be revealed here. There is great joy for Jacob and the bird world, who come from far and wide to celebrate.

Jacob takes his leave and goes to join his waiting parents. He is accompanied by the little bird, Hubertus, whom he rescued from Mörtel’s house, and who had always wanted to go on holiday by the sea. After the family’s great delight at being together again and wholesome days on the beach with bathing, lemonade and staying up late, Jacob and Hubertus decide not to fly home themselves – ‘after all, school started again on Monday...’

Philip Waechter, an author-illustrator who lives in Frankfurt am Main and who was awarded the Book Art Foundation prize in 2004, illustrates his own poignant and charmingly narrated tale with clear and expressive drawings. He has a knack for producing almost minimalist drawings containing only the most essential details which nevertheless leave things for the reader to discover upon a second viewing. The illustrations alternate ingeniously between whole-page tableaux and striking individual scenes set against a white background, culminating in the double-page depiction of the birds’ celebration of freedom in which the joyful, teeming mass of birds seems almost to vibrate and marks the book’s visual highpoint.

Waechter’s style is highly distinctive: his striking line drawings are somewhere between cartoon and realism, the figures in particular follow a pattern – always a bit dishevelled, with somewhat large noses, personable and appealing ... And there is another characteristic feature of Waechter’s style in ‘Flying Jacob’: in just a few strokes he produces expressive animals – here countless birds – but each one is unique.

Together, the words and pictures tell a rich and complex story. ‘Flying Jacob’ tells of childhood difference and the loving parental acceptance of this difference. This creates a platform for the active, courageous independence of the hero. The book tells of friendship and the delight in things which cannot be owned. Our society, which in many ways normalises and imposes limitations, as well as being fixated on having rather than being, should welcome many more wonderful books like this one of Philip Waechter’s – and of course read them aloud to our children.        
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By Michael Sellhoff, 19.12.2012

​Michael Sellhoff is a research associate at the Philosophical Seminar of the University of Kiel and is a freelance editor.

Translated by Sheridan Marshal