Since their first appearance in 1963, the friendly field mice Guri and Gura have been unshakable pillars of Japanese children’s literature. They’re known to all and lovingly referenced in the most unexpected places — even in the heavy metal parody manga “Detroit Metal City.”
The first English edition of the book, not credited to any translator in particular, was published in 1991 with the added subtitle “The Giant Egg.” The bare-bones translation style of that edition was not without its charm as a companion to Yuriko Yamawaki’s guileless illustrations, and “Guri and Gura” completists will want to keep an eye out for it, but the newer translation by Peter Howlett and Richard McNamara is more fun to read aloud, and in a book with three songs in less than 30 pages, this is no minor detail.
The appeal of “Guri and Gura” can be opaque to the uninitiated: The story is lopsided and rambling, and the illustration style far from sophisticated. But, of course, this is exactly what children love about the book: its beaming sincerity. Instead of ginned-up moral dilemmas or preachy moralizing, the book simply offers two mice who, in their own words, like to “cook and eat, eat and cook.” Everything unfolds from this premise with supreme authenticity, and even the illustrations reveal themselves as vehicles of pure expression.
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