Chirchir Is Singing
“This story offers elementary-school educators a lovely opportunity to share an uplifting story set in Kenya. . . . ‘What has made the day pass so sweetly?’ the relatives wonder as they make their way home after a hard day’s work. The answer comes with the breeze that greets them: Chirchir is singing. Readers will find reason to smile, too.”
With a touch of whimsy and a dollop of good cheer, Chirchir Is Singing features a small, creative child who discovers how to put her talents to use in her community.
Chirchir, which means “born quickly,” belongs to the Kalenjin tribe in Kenya. Waking up with a song in her heart, she sets out to lend a hand to her elders as they go about their daily chores.
First she approaches Mama to help her draw water from the well. Soon enough, the rope slips through her hands, and Chirchir falls. “Little one, this work is not for you,” says Mama. That message follows Chirchir as she goes from one relative to another, offering her assistance. Each time, she starts out with bouncy little lyrics about the job, whether it’s starting a fire, spreading mud on the floor, or hoeing potatoes.
And then reality squashes her childlike verse. In the midst of her disappointment, though, she hears a cry and follows it to the hut where her infant brother has awakened—unlike her curled-up older brother, who had been responsible for tending him. Chirchir is ready and able to handle the job, for what better way to soothe a baby than to sing?
Chirchir’s small but significant journey takes place in Kenya’s western hills and valleys, captured by the South African artist Jude Daly, with folk-art paintings that utilize flat perspectives and a generous helping of leafy greens for the rural landscape. Echoing the hills’ curves are such pleasing images as the swirling flocks of swallows, the circular interiors of rooms, the rounded boundary of a fence, the golden yolk of a sun, the waves of musical notes on the endpapers, and the broad swirl containing notes and images of her family at work that emerges from Chirchir’s mouth when she realizes she, too, has an important job to do.
In addition to providing a gentle, likable story featuring a character children will relate to, Ms. Cunnane, author of For You Are a Kenyan Child (2006), depicts realistic details of family life and of the environment in the Great Rift Valley, the setting she identifies in her concluding note. Her specificity also shows up in the sprinkling of Swahili words, defined in the book’s glossary.
Equally commendable is the author’s rhythmic, poetic language, sparkling with fresh images: the “winking silver circle of the well” and a wind that “like a cat paw wipes the sky clean.” Such is the stuff of Chirchir’s lilting songs, as well, mingled with the sounds and sights of her village life. This story offers elementary-school educators a lovely opportunity to share an uplifting story set in Kenya. Children could easily learn Chirchir’s lyrics and play simple tunes on Orff instruments to tell the story of Chirchir’s ultimately happy day.
“What has made the day pass so sweetly?” the relatives wonder as they make their way home after a hard day’s work. The answer comes with the breeze that greets them: Chirchir is singing. Readers will find reason to smile, too.