Monday, March 14, 2005

Totto-chan: The Little Girl at the Window

This book turned out to be very surprising. When I borrowed it, I was skeptical as to whether or not I would like it, since the only thing I knew of it was that it is the memoirs of a well known Japanese actress.

I was surprised to find that the book was about her earliest memories of her school days. And even though it was written by an adult, the character of herself as a young child shone through in the way she captured the thoughts she had during her experiences, and the alternatively gave insight to what she feels about those experiences as an adult.

At the very first page I was enchanted. I think that I really enjoyed reading this for a few reasons. First, it immediately reminded me of when I read Beverly Cleary’s Ramona the Pest. I identified with Ramona very much when I was younger, and my daughter Abi is now the "Ramona" of my family. “Totto-chan” seems to be the Japanese version of Ramona.

Next, the story itself has an underlying message of how children need to be free to explore their world and learn without too much adult interference or criticism. This is because children are inherently good, and do not really mean to do bad things. And generally, if allowed they work out their mistakes themselves because they want to do the right thing.

The main supporter of this ideal is her headmaster at the elementary school she attended. The headmaster, Sosaku Kobayashi, was able to create a safe atmosphere for the children where they could learn without developing complexes about themselves. Even his school was unique and invoked creativity…it was composed of empty train cars. It was amazed to learn that such a progressive-minded school existed in 1937.

Third, the story takes place in the author’s youth, during World War II. There are distinct historical references to what was going on in the world at the time; however the Tatto-chan was not affected by these events until the the school was destroyed by incendiary bombs in the middle of the night and the people of her town fled for safety. It was important for her headmaster to let the children be children even in a very dangerous time.

The author, Tetsuko Kuroyanagi, drew me into her world with the first word, and enchanted me completely until the very end. I loved that this is a true account; therefore all the characters are real. I think that this is a very worthy read as do many others. Tatto-chan is read in schools to grade school children so that they can learn from Totto-chan’s experiences and identify with her as well.

Totto-chan’s story has distinct elements of some of my favorite childhood books: The imagination of The Box Car Children, The innocence of Ramona the Pest, and the truth of The Diary of Anne Frank.

Overall, I would highly recommend Totto-chan: The Little Girl at the Window, if not for yourself then for your children.

3 Comments:

At 16:51, Anonymous Scott C. said...

I remember The Boxcar Children.

Now THAT'S back when they wrote real children's books! :P

 
At 18:51, Blogger Kassi said...

I loved those stories. My third grade teacher read them to us in class.

 
At 11:02, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I am glad that you liked the book. I felt the same way about it. Couldn't put it down. I also loved The Boxcar Children. My mom used to read it to me and my brother.

Erin M

 

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