Keywords: fiction, ages 8+, fantasy, slice of life, light-hearted, coming of age/growing up, 13-year-old female protagonist, talking animal sidekick, magic, quirky, funny, inspired a movie!
When you see a movie before reading the book it’s based on, it can change what you expect from the book. I first saw Kiki’s Delivery Service as a film when I was a kid. It’s one of my favourite movies ever and I’ve watched it dozens, maybe even hundreds of times! So when I picked up the original book Kiki’s Delivery Service by Eiko Kadono (and translated from Japanese to English by Emily Balistrieri), all I could think about was the movie. How similar is the movie to the book? What things did the movie leave out from the original story?
Comparing the book to the film is fun, but it can be a little unfair. After all, the book deserves to be read and enjoyed for its own niceness, not because it happened to inspire a nice movie! So, I will try to talk about the book first – only the book.
The story starts with Kiki, a witch just about to turn 13. To be a proper witch, she needs to have a ‘coming-of-age day’: a tradition where 13-year-old witches go and live in a different town for a year and survive on their own magic. There’s a problem with magic, though. Over the years, witches have lost their knowledge of certain skills and spells. So now there are very few magical skills left. For example, Kiki’s mother Kokiri can make magical medicine (like her famous sneeze potion!), but she’s actually the last witch left in the world who knows how to do this properly. And while Kokiri tried to teach Kiki how to make magical medicine, the young girl hates it. Instead, Kiki has one magical skill that she truly loves: flying on her broomstick.
While she flies and does her magic, Kiki is accompanied by her little black cat Jiji. Kiki and Jiji grew up together and are constant companions. The wonderful thing is that Jiji can talk…but only to Kiki! Everyone else just hears meows. How amazing would it be to talk to cats and have them talk to you? I want to be a witch now!
So, Kiki and Jiji fly off to find a new town to live in. All Kiki wants is to see the sea for the very first time, so she looks for a town close to the ocean. And luckily, she finds one! The town of Koriko (lots of ‘K’ words in this book!) is a big seaside town with no witch living there yet. The rest of the story is about Kiki’s adventures in the town as she lives there (on her own!) for a whole year.
Kiki’s adventures are really fun to read! You see, this clever witch decides to run her own business – a delivery service, of course! So basically she flies around the town to deliver random things to people. And when I say ‘random things’, I mean it. I don’t want to spoil too much, but here are just a couple of things Kiki delivers:
– A trumpet
– A pair of underpants
– A pacifier
– New Year’s Eve
I won’t tell you how or why she delivered any of these things; you’ll need to find out for yourself!
So, what was it like reading this book? In a word: magical. I really enjoyed following Kiki’s growth into a true witch as she helped people around the town. My favorite part of the book was the characters, especially the two kids Kiki meets in Koriko. One is a boy who is obsessed with airplanes and looks like a dragonfly. The other is a girl who has interesting strategies when she wants to give a present to a boy she likes. It’s fun to see how Kiki interacts with kids her age, because it shows you just how different we can be from each-other. Just because you’re the same age as someone doesn’t mean you’re exactly the same!
I’d say the only thing I didn’t like too much was the book’s pacing (how quickly the story goes). Kiki arrives at the town, we’re told about some of her deliveries, then BAM! It has been a full year and pretty much the end of the book! I would have liked to hear more about her life during that one year.
Here’s the thing: there is a way to learn more about Kiki’s adventures and read about her life. There are actually sequels! However, we cannot read them – unless you’re fluent in Japanese. Yup, none of the other books in the Kiki’s Delivery Service series has been translated to English! Only the first one! So if anyone reading this review is fluent in Japanese, please read the other Kiki books and tell me about them. I’m super curious about what she does next!
By the time I finished reading the story, I completely forgot about the movie version. Both are really nice in their own ways and I recommend both!
This book has fantasy elements to it (of course! there’s a witch in it, after all!), but it’s also a slice-of-life sort of story. So, both fantasy fanatic Felipe and slice-of-life lover Jenny adore Kiki’s Delivery Service!