Chirri & Chirra: A Japanese Parallel Love Letter to the Natural World and the Whimsical World
By Maria Popova
“Two girls discover the secret of life on a sudden line of poetry,” Denise Levertov wrote in her stunning 1964 poem “The Secret.” Somewhere in the world, two girls are always discovering the secret of life, as are the twin protagonists in the poetic and largehearted Chirri & Chirra (public library) by Japanese children’s book virtuoso Kaya Doi.
Although prolific and beloved in Japan, Doi’s work has been slow to migrate West — in no small part because her vibrant yet delicate illustrations demand a special attentiveness to color and paper quality, impossible to reproduce with the cheap commodity approach commercial publishers have even to children’s books today. After chancing upon one of Doi’s enchanting books, Claudia Zoe Bedrick of Brooklyn indie powerhouse Enchanted Lion Books — publisher of such courageous and sensitive gems as Cry, Heart, But Never Break and The Lion and the Bird — took a chance on Doi. And what a beautiful chance it is.
The dreamsome story follows Chirri and Chirra, each on a bicycle, that most poetic of vehicles, as they wander into the forest on a daylong adventure. Everywhere they go, they are met with the kindness and hospitality of various animals — creatures wildly unlike themselves, yet animated by a common impulse for goodness.
The story is driven by two parallel loves — of the natural world and of the whimsical world — and ends in the greatest unifer of all: song. The two girls find themselves amid a fantastical congregation of animals in the middle of the forest — a common theme of Japanese modernist folklore — and conclude their adventure by joining in the colorful choir of creatures.
In a world shaken by uncertainty and mistrust, Chirri & Chirra stands as part pleasurable escape, part vital and vitalizing reminder that sweetness, kindness, and goodwill are irrepressibly alive in the wilderness of the human spirit, though we might sometimes get lost in the forest before rediscovering them.
Complement it with Japanese artist Komako Sakai’s uncommonly tender reimagining of The Velveteen Rabbit, also from Enchanted Lion Books.
Illustrations courtesy of Enchanted Lion Books; photographs by Maria Popova
Published November 14, 2016