Chirri & Chirra is an utterly charming series of children’s picture books by well-known Japanese writer and illustrator Kaya Doi. They have been translated from Japanese and published in English by the quintessentially indie children’s publisher, Enchanted Lion Books.
These whimsical stories are low on the angst scale and high on the charm meter, featuring two rosy-cheeked best friends, Chirri and Chirra, and their magical adventures in the natural world. The girls love riding their bicycles, frolicking with animals, and eating delicious food that will have your mouth watering. One of the quirkiness of the two girls is that they are identical except that they each have one detail that is of a different color from the other, whether it is buttons on their outfits, a side pocket, or a crossbody purse.
Doi is known for her softly styled drawings on rich creamy paper. She creates the illustrations in these books with colored pencils, pastels, and crayons, crafting them to give an old-world feel, a time of innocence and simplicity. The exquisite art radiates joy and has a dreamy quality to it that reflects how children imagine their ideal world to be.
These delightful books are a welcome escape for young children from their pandemic-fueled anxieties.
Chirri & Chirra (translated by Yuki Kaneko)
This is the first book in the series, and it introduces us to Chirri and Chirra.“What a perfect day,” says Chirri as this story begins, and it turns out that she is absolutely right.
The two girls set out on a long bicycle ride through a gently rolling pastoral world. As their day unfolds, they encounter things along the way as they need them. When they are hungry, a forest café and a roadside bakery show up; when they come to a stream, a bridge appears; when they’re tired, a nice leafy tree shows up. At the end of the day, they reach a forest hotel where there is a starlit animal symphony in progress.
In their day, the girls meet up with fantastical creatures, such as a fox waiter, a raccoon baker, a pig flautist, rabbits with carrot buns, and honeybees with sweet violet tea. While Chirri and Chirra are almost identical, the animals come in all sizes and shapes and occupations. Every single being is welcomed at the forest hotel; no one is discriminated against or left out.
Chirri & Chirra: The Snowy Day (translated by Yuki Kaneko)
Children love playing in the snow. As soon as the first snow of the season starts to fall, Chirri and Chirra head out on their bicycles. Around them is a winter wonderland filled with frozen ponds and leafless trees limned with white gold snow.
Their travels bring them to a cavernous community center where animals of all kinds are reading, playing cards and marbles, jamming on instruments, debating, and having a wee snooze. Who does not enjoy a long soak in a hot spring on a cold winter’s day? They and all their new friends jump into the floral-scented waters.
Leaving their warm haven, the girls head back out on their bicycles to a large forest village filled with cozy igloos. A family of bears warmly welcomes them to their abode and invites them to snuggle into a bed that is just the right size for them all. Through the skylight, they watch the sky above them teeming with shooting stars and dream the restful dreams of ones who are unconditionally accepted wherever they go.
Chirri & Chirra: On the Town (translated by David Boyd)
One a warm, breezy summer day, Chirri and Chirra decide it is the perfect day for a bicycle ride. As they ride through the forest, the woodland around them is awash in color. When they cycle through the old town, the yarn shop they discover reflects the outside colors in their flower-dyed yarn bundles, and the girls cannot resist choosing their favorites. Every shop in town has goods in a rainbow of colors celebrating the season.
Suddenly, they hear someone beckoning them by their names. As they curiously move through the town towards the voice, they come to a big house that welcomes them in with hot soup. However, the voice is insistent, and they search the house and the magnificent rose arbor beyond till they are charmed by who it is who wants to meet them and the joyful celebration they’re invited to be part of.
Curiosity is a good thing, and it is wonderful for children to see that joy awaits at the other end of curious inquiry.
Chirri & Chirra: Underground (translated by David Boyd)
Sometimes adventures begin when you see something intriguing and follow along on a hunch. What most people consider a dark, dank place, the underground can also be a fascinating place full of color and mystery. Our intrepid explorers, Chirri and Chirra discover just that.
They’re carefully navigating a tree root system, when they chance upon a bustling underground peanut farm. Everyone there is busy helping each other, and together they harvest peanuts and cook up tasty treats. The next tunnel takes them to a gorgeous underground flower garden, and then further along, a thriving root vegetable garden.
And then, they spot those mischief-makers they’ve been following hither and tither. Turns out, the parents of the three young’un badgers are apologetic for their kids’ antics, and they invite the girls along on a boating trip to their beautiful house and a sumptuous meal.
In this story, Chirri and Chirra have to believe that the family of badgers to whom they’ve entrusted their safety will prove to be trustworthy and not lead them astray. It is very comforting to little children to see that they can take risks and have faith in others without fearing something bad will happen to them.
Chirri & Chirra: Under the Sea (translated by David Boyd)
Chirri and Chirra are never daunted by the unknown. “Let’s take a look, Chirri.” That is the courageous spirit with which they live their lives. And when their curiosity gets them in sticky spots, like in this story, they don’t panic. Instead, they keep looking for solutions to their problems, always with the confidence in their own ability to figure things out. They go where the current takes them. These girls show that when faced with problems, it is important to be flexible. It is also rewarding to be flexible because wonders await you when you stop trying to control things.
The two girls’ exploration of a cave leads them under the sea. They merrily pedal along on their bicycles while enjoying sights they had never seen before: a maze of coral, sea animals of all shapes and sizes and colors, shells and seaweed, and even an anglerfish with a light on its head in the midnight zone. All kind of marvels await them under the sea, such as shell couches, sea-spray parfait and marine soda jelly, a musical, a treasure cavern, and even gifts of rainbow-colored conchs and real pearls.
When they’re back home, all they have to do is hold their sea pendants to their ears to bring back the sounds of the sea and remember the joy of their wonderful adventure. Those sea pendants are a metaphor for this story, which whispers to children that, despite its occasional uncomfortable moments, life is mostly joyful and radiant.