Chirchir Is Singing

Overview

Chirchir just wants to make herself useful like all her other family members. But she drops Mama's water bucket, spills Kogo's tea, and sends Baba's potatoes tumbling down the hill. Isn't there something that Chirchir does best? Set in the rolling hills of rural Kenya, this is a wise and lyrical story about belonging from Kelly Cunnane, the author of the Ezra Jack Keats Award winner For You Are a Kenyan Child, accompanied by Jude Daly's beautiful folk art-style illustrations.

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Overview

Chirchir just wants to make herself useful like all her other family members. But she drops Mama's water bucket, spills Kogo's tea, and sends Baba's potatoes tumbling down the hill. Isn't there something that Chirchir does best? Set in the rolling hills of rural Kenya, this is a wise and lyrical story about belonging from Kelly Cunnane, the author of the Ezra Jack Keats Award winner For You Are a Kenyan Child, accompanied by Jude Daly's beautiful folk art-style illustrations.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
Cunnane returns to the Kenyan setting of her 2006 picture book, For You Are a Kenyan Child, in a you're-too-small tale given depth by lyrical prose ("High in Africa, wind like a cat paw wipes the sky clean"). Chirchir tries but fails to help her elders and is sent away time after time. "Little one, this work is not for you," says Mama after Chirchir drops the well bucket. "Go help Kogo with the fire." Not until Chirchir finds her baby brother, Kip-rop, crying untended does she discover a task she can do as well as the grownups. In an afterword, Cunnane explains that Chirchir is a member of the Kalenjin tribe; the story contains a great deal of information about Kalenjin life, language, customs, and Kenyan flora and fauna ("Warblers and cuckoos swing in the bottlebrush tree"). Daly's (Sivu's Six Wishes) softly shaded acrylics have much to teach, too. When Chirchir helps her grandmother build a fire, roosters peck on the hut's floor, but a radio sits on the table. Images of security, dependability, and plenty offer a fresh picture of African life. Ages 3–7. (Aug.)
Children's Literature - Ken Marantz and Sylvia Marantz
"High in Africa" young Chirchir wakes up singing, eager to help her mother. But when they lower the bucket into the well together, the rope slips. "[T]his work is not for you," Chirchir's mother tells her, sending the girl to help her grandmother build the fire. But the pot boils over and the fire goes out. So, again, the work is not for her. She is sent to help her sister mud the floor, but sneezes the mud all over. Helping papa, she causes the potatoes he collects to roll away. Each time Chirchir thinks she can do the assigned task, and each time it proves not to be for her. Sent to play while everyone is working, she sadly "swallows her song." Then she hears a sad cry. She discovers her baby brother weeping while her "naughty brother," who should be watching him, sleeps. Now Chirchir sings, cradling and soothing the baby. Her song makes the day pass more sweetly for everyone. Daly scatters musical notes across the warm orange end pages, suggesting the power of Chirchir's singing. Her simplified "folk-art style" of double-page scenes in pastel acrylics display landscape, characters, and buildings that inform us about Chirchir's family and their life. Notes add information about the Kalenjin tribe in the Great Rift Valley in Kenya, on which the story is based. A glossary is included. Reviewer: Ken Marantz and Sylvia Marantz
Kirkus Reviews

Chirchir, a little girl of the Kalenjin tribe in Kenya, cheerfully sings andtriesto help her busy family with chores.

Her zeal is greater than her abilities, though, as she loses her grip on the well rope, lets the fire leap up to burn the chai and causes newly dug potatoes to roll down the terraced hill. "Little one, this work is not for you," is the gently repeated admonition, as Chirchir is sent from one relative to another. Finally, spirits low, she hears a sound and runs to the brothers' sleeping hut. Baby Kip-rop is crying, and big brother Kip-koech is sleeping through it! She cradles the baby and sings soothingly. Cunnane's lilting text conveys respect for Kelenjin village life and the importance of children's contributions to agrarian work. Her thoughtful portrait of Chirchir, striving to find her familial role, resonates across cultures. South African Daly's soft acrylic pictures depict village life with a stylized, folkloric verve. Animals graze placidly as villagers work amid the sweeping backdrop of green hills and well-tended crops. At last, the family pauses. "What has made the day pass so sweetly?they wonder. / The answer comes on a breeze / that echoes through the hills and valleys / of Kenya. / Chirchir is singing."

An affecting slice of Kenyan village life presented by a skilled author and illustrator, both with African connections. (author's note, glossary) (Picture book. 3-7)

From the Publisher
Starred Review, Publishers Weekly, June 13, 2011:
"Images of security, dependability, and plenty offer a fresh picture of African life."
School Library Journal
K-Gr 3—Set in a rural Kenyan village joyfully portrayed by Daly's charming folk-style artwork, this is a story to which children everywhere will relate. Chirchir's name means "Born Quickly" in her native Kalenjin, but to American ears it sounds like the perfect word for her sunny disposition as she makes her way through the day. She wakes up and tells the rooster that she's going to help Mama today. Sweetly she sings as she helps her draw water from the well, "Drop,/plop/the bucket in./Wiggle it…jiggle it…Let it fill…./Then hand over hand,/up comes/maji, maji-water!…But-Oh-ohh!/The rope slips,/water splashes,/Chirchir sprawls." Mama sends her to help someone else, but all of Chirchir's attempts end in disaster. As she becomes more discouraged, she becomes visibly grounded to the earth and no longer dances across the pages, and her songs grow quieter until finally her joy returns when she finds a job that is just right. Full of small details that capture the family's connection to nature and daily life in the beautiful highlands of the Great Rift Valley, the story takes precedence while celebrating another culture. The endpapers include a helpful author's note about Kenya's Kalenjin tribe and a glossary of Swahili/Kalenjin words. The winning combination of a delightful main character and gorgeous execution should earn Chirchir a place in most libraries.—Anna Haase Krueger, Antigo Public Library, WI
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780375861987
  • Publisher: Random House Children's Books
  • Publication date: 8/23/2011
  • Pages: 40
  • Sales rank: 786,039
  • Age range: 3 - 7 Years
  • Product dimensions: 11.10 (w) x 9.60 (h) x 0.40 (d)

Meet the Author

KELLY CUNNANE is an author and educator who has been exploring and writing about East Africa since 1979. She received the Ezra Jack Keats New Writer Award for her picture book For You Are a Kenyan Child, which the New York Times described as "entrancing . . . [an] inviting introduction to a different culture." Kelly has lived and taught in Kenya and Mauritania and currently lives in Beals, Maine. Learn more at KellyCunnane.com.

JUDE DALY is the author and illustrator of Fair, Brown and Trembling: An Irish Cinderella Story and To Everything There Is a Season, which Publishers Weekly called "soothing and enormously appealing" in a starred review. She has illustrated many children's stories and folk tales from around the world, including The Dove and The Elephant's Pillow. Jude lives in Cape Town, South Africa, with her husband, author-illustrator Niki Daly.

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