Ask a child what he is frightened of; he might say he fears the darkness, ghosts, bullies, or tigers. Now, how would you respond to that?
One of the most beautiful answers I got to this question is from a children’s book. “Having eyes but not seeing beauty; having ears but not hearing music; having minds, but not perceiving the truth; having hearts that are never moved and therefore never set on fire. These are the things to fear”.
I grew up in Sri Lanka with very strict parents and a grandmother who was a teacher- so I was always surrounded by books. We didn’t have many electronic devices, so reading was a welcomed hobby. My mom always read books to me when I went to bed.
For my 9th Birthday, My grandma gave me a book called Totto Chan. I was very curious because it was a Japanese translation, and I’ve never read any translations.
As far as I can remember, Totto chan was the first book I read all by myself. The moment I finished the book, I fell in love with reading.
I think books can do magic. They can hypnotize you, break your heart, make you laugh, or even take you on journeys you may have never dreamt of! Yes, books are magic!
And this book of Totto chan is the greatest magic I have come across in many years. I think I’ve read this book more times than I can count. This book will forever be in my heart.
Totto chan is like a window to the Past, the culture, and the people of Japan seen through a young girl. It’s fun, engaging, and emotional at times. The book doesn’t have an end with a ‘realization’ or a moralistic lesson. Rather, the whole book is on a cultural expedition, kinda like a travel book.
Curious Totto Chan
Totto Chan, a first-grader Japanese girl, lived in a world of her own. She loves to talk. A LOT. And she always had a ton of questions in her small head about almost everything! Sometimes she wanted to be a spy when she grew up, and sometimes she wanted to be a stationmaster! But this attitude of hers got her expelled from her School!
Totto-Chan was expelled from School as she kept looking out of the classroom window.
The dull classroom sessions left her feeling bored and inattentive in class. She could not keep herself focused in the classroom and ended up looking out of the window all the time. She would talk to people walking outside the classroom from the window. Sometimes she even talked to birds.
Totto-Chan’s playful behaviour distracts all the other students in the class. She was asked to be quiet and obedient in class. Despite being advised by her teachers so many times, she could not resist herself looking out through the window and talking with the people around her. So, she was expelled from the School.
But poor Totto Chan was not a bad student; she was just curious.
The New School
Her mother realizes that Totto-chan needs a school where more freedom of expression is given. So, she takes Totto-chan to a new school.
Totto chan had no idea what might have happened while her mother took her to a new school, Tomoe Gakuen. She didn’t even know she had been expelled from her previous school.
After arriving at the New School, Totto-Chan was shocked. She couldn’t believe what she was seeing. Train compartments as classrooms! Yes, real train compartments! This made Totto chan fall in love with her new School at first sight!
Then she met the headmaster, Mr Kobayashi. He was old but jolly. The first question Totto Chan asked Mr Kobayashi was if he was a headmaster or a stationmaster! Mr Kobayashi laughed and talked with Totto Chan.
The headmaster told her that she could talk about anything. And you know Totto Chan loves to talk. She talked and talked and talked for several hours. And after telling him everything she could remember, the headmaster said She could come to School the following day.
This made her the happiest person in the world! She couldn’t wait any longer to start her first day at that fun School!
The School Life
Totto Chan’s days were like dreams in there. The School didn’t force them to study a particular subject. They could start their day with any subjects they liked. They would even sing before eating.
The teachers would also take them on a stroll after lunch. They even used their assembly hall as a camping site!
From studying insects and plants to creating their own plays and songs, Totto Chan and her classmates were encouraged to think creatively and critically and approach their education with excitement and curiosity.
The book describes the friends Totto-Chan makes, the lessons she learns, and the vibrant atmosphere she enjoys at Tomoe Gakuen. Kobayashi introduces new activities to interest the pupils. Mr Kobayashi understands children and strives to develop their minds and bodies. He is concerned for the physically challenged, and he emphasizes how all children are remarkable in their individuality.
Mr Kobayashi believed in freedom of expression and activity. Some of the methods in his School were very unusual. Every day for lunch, he asked the children to bring something from the hills and something from the ocean – to have a balance in what they ate.
He allowed young children to swim naked in the pool so that they get over their curiosity about their bodies. He also wanted the handicapped children in the School to be more accepting of their bodies. On sports day, he gave unusual gifts to the children. He gave away carrots and cabbages as gifts so that children could earn a meal for their families.
The War II
Now all of these things were happening during the Second world war. But in this School, the children lead happy lives, unaware of the things going on in the outside world. There are hints of something awry when Totto-Chan cannot buy caramel candies from the vending machine on her way to School, and it becomes harder for her mother to meet the requirements for a balanced lunch.
But happiness always comes to an end, just like every childhood must. With the approaching of war and food shortage, Totto-Chan slowly learned the harsh truth of life. The small wonders and adventures of the children were slowly and surely engulfed by war.
The Second World War plays a significant role in “Totto-chan: The Little Girl at the Window.” The book is set in Japan during the 1940s and describes the challenges and hardships faced by the Japanese people during this time.
Totto-chan’s family is forced to move several times due to air raids, and her father is conscripted into the army. The School she attends, Tomoe Gakuen, is also affected by the war. The School is eventually closed down as the city of Tokyo is destroyed in the war, and Totto-chan and her family are forced to flee to the countryside.
Despite the difficulties faced during the war, Totto-chan’s experiences at Tomoe Gakuen and her relationship with Ojii-san, the principal, provide a source of comfort and hope.
The war also highlights the importance of education and its role in shaping the future. Despite the destruction caused by the war, Totto-chan’s experiences at Tomoe Gakuen showed her the potential for a better future and the importance of education in creating a better world.
Totto-Chan is a story that touches the heart of the reader. It has everything that a reader needs — laughter, innocence, happiness, warmth, hard work, love, tears, and realizations. No wonder it never fails to amaze both children and adults alike.
This book has filled my heart with some innumerable emotions. I laughed, I cried, I felt happy, and I started missing my school life! Although it wasn’t as dreamy as Tomoe.
So this is the review of one of my most beloved books. Hope you enjoyed reading this. If you have read this, please leave a comment down below; I would love to read your take on this. And if you haven’t, I highly recommend reading this wonderful piece of art. Thank you for reading & see you soon with another article.