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"Kiki's Delivery Service" (the book) is a pretty magical read

"Kiki's Delivery Service" (the book) is a pretty magical read

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If you were to talk of witches and witchcraft, the first thing that would come to mind for those who have been around for the past 15 years, would be one name: 'Harry Potter.' The tale of the young wizard who saved the Wizard World and continues his schooling at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry, and his battle to thwart the forces of the evil Lord Voldemort. But for every renowned book like 'Harry Potter' by J. K. Rowling, there are books like "'Kiki's Delivery Service" by Eiko Kadono.

If the title sounds familiar, that is because "Kiki's Delivery Service" was adapted by Director Hayao Miyazaki in 1989 for the screen, from Ms. Kadono's novel. Originally planning to simply produce the film, the script that Studio Ghibli (Miyazaki's animation studio) was developing caused him to rewrite the script. When this caused the film's then-director to become intimidated by his involvement, Miyazaki then took the reins of the film, and became the film's director.

Ms. Kadono's story focuses on Kiki, a young girl whose mother is a witch, and father is a non-witch. Living in a small town, Kiki lives with her family, and her close companion Jiji, a black cat who was raised alongside her since birth. This connection allows Kiki to understand Jiji and talk to him as if he were a person. Wanting to be a witch like her mother, Kiki exhibits the excited glee of wanting to ride a broomstick, but like many children, she is impatient to learn certain elements that take time, notably the process of making medicine.

Upon Kiki reaching her thirteenth birthday, she must take on a custom passed down through generations. At the age of 13, it is required for witches to leave home to find a place to settle down and learn a trade. Dressing in a simple black dress, and taking only the minimal of necessities, Kiki and Jiji set off on a journey that will lead them to the seaside town of Koriko. It is here that Kiki will meet all number of people, from the baker woman Osono, to Tombo (which means 'dragonfly' in Japanese), a young man obsessed with flight. Utilizing her talent for flight, Kiki opens a delivery service, leading to numerous adventures.

Eiko Kadono's story utilizes a style of story-telling that doesn't fold one chapter into another. Each chapter is a separate story, detailing a separate element. Each of Kiki's Deliveries take up one chapter, and don't fold over into the next one, with maybe a few elements that carry on over, but not with a 'the next day' feel. In the span of 11 chapters, Ms. Kadono chronicles Kiki's first year in Koriko.

Kiki also becomes a resourceful and energetic character, though not without her hints of becoming a young adult. Her protests against her mother for not letting her use the broom she made herself, or even to choose something to wear with color give her character depth, instead of a simple 'yes mother' feel. This isn't to say that Kiki is a disagreeable young woman, but it does show that parents don't see eye-to-eye on certain topics with their children.

The topic of the story, a parable on leaving home to find your way in the world, will no doubt be familiar to those who have already done so, but will be a nice read for young children as well. Leaving home for the first time, away from the security of home and family is always a big step to take. Kiki's searching out a large city is notable to the thoughts of many young people when leaving home, as many leave seeking something bigger than what they have been used to. Of course, suddenly finding yourself in surroundings unfamiliar to you, with myriad people and noone who knows you, can be a bit frightening.

There isn't a lot of talk about witchcraft and such, but there are some instances where Ms. Kadono has Kiki's mother tell her a bit more about the world she has been born into. Unlike 'Harry Potter,' the world of witches in the story is one that is slowly fading into obscurity, as many spells and potions are disappearing and forgotten as the years go by. And it is no surprise that in Kiki's world, there are, of course, people who could view witchcraft as evil. Kiki's mother puts it best when she explains:

"Witches have managed to survive in a hostile world because they changed their attitudes and decided to live together with ordinary folk, give-and-take. Sometimes it's important to be quiet and stay in the background. Other times, we can come forward and help out. I do think this has been the best way."

The book's illustrations are done in a standard pen-and-ink technique, by Akiko Hayashi. Her style of illustrations have a loose, almost 'cartoonish' feel to them. If you've seen the animated feature the book is based on, you can see a slight resemblance to some of the background characters.

An interesting side story about the book is that Ms. Kadono had qualms about her work being turned into a film (P L Travers had qualms when Walt Disney wanted to turn her story 'Mary Poppins' into a film as well, but that's another story). Like most directors, Miyazaki made some changes to the story's context. Some of the books' characters became integral parts to the film, but he also added in subplots and turned it into a story that was not so episodic. In some ways, changes made to Kiki made her 'suffer moreso' than in the original story. Miyazaki's take on making Kiki's story a process about growing up almost made the author put a halt to the story. However, after several talks with Miyazaki and his friend/producer Toshio Suzuki, she did consent to their making the film.

After the film came out, Ms. Kadono released a sequel to the first book. Titled "Kiki and Her New Magic," the book continues where the first book left off. Since then, there has been a third book, and in recent news, she is currently working on a 4th book. Currently, there are no plans to bring these sequels to America. As it is, most bookstores don't even carry "Kiki's Delivery Service" on their 'young readers' bookshelves (I had to special order my copy). But even so, this would make a nice quiet summer read, no matter how old you may be. I'm in my early 20's, and I found it to be a nice and enjoyable read.

One downside that some have noted (and that I agree on), is the painted cover that is on the American version. The illustration doesn't do the story justice. So if you get a chance to read this book, just remember what your Mom told you: don't judge a book by its cover.

Do you want to buy this book and help support JimHillMedia.com in the process? Then order your copy of Eiko Kadono's charming novel, "Kiki's Delivery Service," from Amazon.com by clicking the link to the right.

Your cost will (unfortunately) remain the same (though it is currently 30% off!) But - if you go there through us - we get a tiny cut of what you spend. So if you're planning on picking up the book, help keep Jim Hill behind the computer where he belongs and order a copy of "Kiki's Delivery Service" (the novel) through the link to the right.

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