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A charming new translation of Eiko Kadono’s 1985 coming-of-age tale, “Kiki’s Delivery Service” opens the door to a new generation of English readers of this children’s classic.

The success of Kadono’s first novel led to the Hayao Miyazaki-directed animated film of the same name in 1989, as well as a total of eight books in the series and a live-action film in 2014. With Emily Balistrieri’s colloquial translation, whimsically illustrated by Yuta Onoda, it’s easy to understand Kiki’s enduring appeal.

Kiki’s Delivery Service, by Eiko Kadono
Translated by Emily Balistrieri
208 pages
DELACORTE BOOKS

Like any adolescent venturing into adulthood, 13-year-old Kiki grapples with insecurities and struggles for agency; that Kiki happens to be a witch is framed more by pragmatism than fantasy.

The story begins with Kiki moving to a town called Koriko, where she must support herself for a year. With the help of some kind neighbors, she sets up a business where she uses her flying skills to deliver goods for the people of her town.

Within the episodic chapters, Kiki navigates a society suspicious of witches and takes on weighty issues such as facing prejudice, establishing her own identity and reconciling with jealousy. Along the way, Kiki learns to live the witch’s motto of “give and take” with an open heart. Kadono’s themes of friendship, compassion and finding your own way are subtly rendered and more potent than ever.

With Kadono’s win of the Hans Christian Andersen Award for literature in 2018 and the release of Balistrieri’s take on Kiki’s adventures, here’s hoping that more of the popular series will appear in English. It’s long overdue for Japan’s most beloved witch.

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