By Tetsuko Kuroyanagi
Translated by Dorothy Britton
Illustrated by Chihiro Iwasaki
Publisher: Kodansha Europe
This is my first Japanese children's book, recommended to me by my bookseller friend, Kit, when she found out that I was trying to read more Japanese fiction.
However, it's actually not a work of fiction, but based on the childhood of its author (a popular Japanese actress, author and talk-show host, philanthropist, UNICEF Goodwill Ambassador and WWF-Japan director), focusing specifically on her experiences as a student at Tomoe Gaukuen, an experimental school in Tokyo, Japan.
The school was founded by one Sosaku Kobayashi who obviously loved children and had unique ideas about how they should be raised and enducated.
Reading about the school, I was filled with envy and longing. Tomoe no longer exists, but educators can learn much from its example.
The book describes Totto-Chan's adventures as a curious, imaginative little girl. She is deemed "impossible" by the teachers in her first school and is expelled, but Kobayashi welcomes her with open arms, and, for Totto, Tomoe is a dream come true, a place where she is allowed to achieve her fullest potential and given the freedom to explore her suroundings and express herself to her heart's content.
If only schools like that existed today. I'd enrol my kids in a flash.
Totto-Chan is broken up into very short chapters, each one relating a short incident or commenting on an interesting aspect of the school or Totto's life and upbringing. It's an easy read - simple, unaffected and charming - and also rather funny.
Totto and her classmates are cute, but the hero of the book is, without a doubt, Kobayashi who was ever optimistic and always ready to see the good in every child.
For more info on Kuroyanagi, read Wikipedia's entry.