“Chirri & Chirra Under the Sea” by Kaya Doi

Chirri & Chirra Under the Sea,  Kaya Doi, David Boyd (trans) (Enchanted Lion Books, May 2020) Chirri & Chirra Under the Sea, Kaya Doi, David Boyd (trans) (Enchanted Lion Books, May 2020)

Twins Chirri & Chirra are pedalling on their bicycles when they find a cave:

 

“Let’s take a look, Chirri.”
“Yes let’s go, Chirra.”

 

With those opening words, the twins in their matching white dresses (only a blue pocket differentiates Chirra from Chirri’s red pocket) ride their bikes into a tunnel, headlights illuminating the path ahead. They arrive under the sea. “Oh,” the rosy-cheeked twins say as they pedal in the water, surrounded by fish, coral and algae.

 

Chirri & Chirra Under the Sea is the sixth book in Japanese author Kaya Doi’s Chirri & Chirra series to be translated into English, with this translation provided by David Boyd. Previous books in the series have introduced young readers to life underground, in the snow and into tall strands of grass. In each, the twins explore spaces in nature from a different point of view. In each, there is magic and whimsy on every page.

In Under the Sea, Chirri and Chirra find a “sea parlor” and once inside there are fish sipping from straws and others lounging on open shells, their drinks on a table in front of them. The twins sit down in two open seats and an octopus delivers dessert. The discoveries—hidden talents and hidden treasures—continue until it is time for the twins to pedal home.

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Doi’s artwork mesmerizes. The colors are rich and vibrant—in Under the Sea, the blue provides a particularly effective contrast to the corals, for example—but there’s also a softness to the pencil drawings that captures the dreaminess of secret worlds and childhood discoveries. There is delight in even the tiniest of details: fish hold open the curtains at the theatre, a seahorse is dressed with a top hat and scarf, a dessert jelly is topped with pearls.

The books are also sized for a child’s hands. Long but not tall, they feel proportionate for small hands and ready for close examination. The text is sparse, but there is still very much a story and still very much the unexpected.

If the aim is to help children see the beauty and the mystery in the natural world, Doi has more than succeeded. First published in 2004, Chirri & Chirra Under the Sea is long overdue to find its way to English-speaking audiences, and thankfully this charming installment and the other books in the series now have an English home.


Melanie Ho is the author of Journey to the West: He Hui, a Chinese Soprano in the World of Italian Opera.