[Book Review] “Totto-chan: The Little Girl at The Window” by Tetsukoyanagi

Totto-chan: The Little Girl at The Window is a compilation of short stories from Tetsuko Kuroyanagi’s life experience on her education during the Word War II in Japan. The short stories were published as a book in 1981 and instantly became a bestseller. The book has been translated into several languages such as English, Indonesian, Arabic, Tagalog, etc. I first read this book when I was in the second year of Junior High School and ever since then, being critical towards the education system in Indonesia. Ever since reading this book, I have compared Indonesia’s education system and wondered if there is any way for Indonesia to implement this kind of education system for the early education. Especially knowing that the early education stage is the golden age for children.

Totto-chan: The Little Girl at The Window is a book about a little girl, Totto-chan, who has just been expelled from her elementary school. There are many of Totto Chan’s characteristics which according to her teacher, are too challenging for a normal student. Totto Chan cannot sit down during the class and always focuses on the things she finds interesting instead on paying attention to the class. Therefore, her teacher demands her to be expelled. Totto Chan’s mother becomes worried and scared with how Totto Chan is expelled during her first year and then tries to find a school that allows Totto-chan to continue her education. Luckily, she finds a school which is led and owned by Sosaku Kobayashi, a Japanese who tries to apply Europe’s way of early education in Japan. Totto-chan is amused by the sight of what the classes are made, railroad cars. After the first day, Totto-chan learns a lot as a child what it means to have freedom, love, and fun. The school is a model school in which Mr. Kobayashi lets the young students learn by themselves, according to their interest. Mr. Kobayashi also emphasizes the fun of exploring and the love in mingling with people who have different personalities and physics with the rest of the kids. Thanks to the school, Totto-chan finds a best friend, Yasuaki Yamamoto, and only a few moments later she also learns about losing a dear friend to illness. Mr. Kobayashi also lets the students learn what the Japanese government bans at the time, which is the language of the enemy, English. However, the school has to stop running when a bomb falls on the school and ruins the building. Sadly, the bombing also means Totto-chan’s adventures during her study in the school has to stop.

Totto-chan, as the main character of the book, is my favorite. Totto-chan is the crazily creative character who everyone has always dreamt about. She has shown me an unbelievable confidence and amazing adventures during her study in Mr. Kobayashi’s school. She has bravely taken actions in many occasions when she tries to satisfy her curiosities. Totto-chan rarely feels embarrassed and always feels blessed with whatever happens due to the teachings from the headmaster and her parents. Totto-chan has a lot of interests on job professions around her and always imagines herself to do those professions which, in my opinion, portrays what children usually do whenever they see interesting job desks that attract their attention.  There are a lot of a little girl’s innocence in what Totto-chan does in her mission to achieve her own goals. Totto-chan is not afraid to get dirty by digging the dirt to find her missing stuff, a little girl’s innocence and willingness that successfully take the readers’ hearts.

The book has quite a mixture of feelings. There is sadness, joy, fear, excitement, and all other feelings that a child could have experienced in her age. Many times, Totto-chan shows exciting adventures which make the readers smile due to her innocence. However, there are also moments when there are pitiful moments of what a child shouldn’t have experienced during their childhood such as the death of a friend at a young age. The war also takes a toll in the children live when there is one student who has to transfer out of the school due to his age. The children also have to feel the indirect effect of politics and war by having the lack of food supplies. And in Totto-chan’s case, has to watch as her father loses many concerts due his refusal to play the war music. These vague mentions of the war hardships have affected the atmosphere quite significantly during the few last chapters of the book, there have been fear and gloomy feeling written all over the pages in a child’s understanding of wars.

The book is written in a fun and amusing way. The stories are kept short which makes the readers able to keep their interest in the book, making it easy for the readers to follow the stories—along with the unwillingness to put the book down.  The story flows in a way that can be easily understood by all ages. Either an adult or a child, the story is mesmerizing enough to keep being enthusiast about what the next chapter has. The story is written in a little girl’s innocence mixed with an adult’s comment on her view of the education systems—especially one in Japan. The comparison of the education systems in two countries like Japan and the Europe, in general, is told in a way that contrasted each other—an easy comparison of how parents grow their children with a different way of educations which goes against what the parents at the time do.

When people say that books you read in your childhood usually become a disappointment when you have grown up, I beg to differ with Totto-chan: The Little Girl at The Window. The book is an amazing book that invites you to keep reading it again and again even after you have memorized all of the stories. The book is a slow ride of your favorite car trip. The small example of how her parents allow Totto-chan to study in Mr. Kobayashi’s school already amazes me. The decision portrays her parents as open minded people in education. They don’t pressure Totto-chan to study formally but let her explore the experiences in childhood—both the sadness and fun. Instead of getting bored and disappointed by the book, I have always been inspired whenever I read it again. I cannot help but dream to change the education system of the early age. Instead of yawning in boredom when I re-read the book, I always cry whenever I read the part where Yasuaki’s illness makes him unable to survive. I didn’t cry when I read the book for the first time and it is really heart-aching now that when I read it again because I can picture how lost his parents and friends feel during his funeral.

These emotions outbursts seem to be one of the reasons why I will say that some books will never change even when you decide to read it when you’ve grown up. Some books are not growing old even with our changing way of viewing life—they will always have a place in our heart since they are one of the life changing books. Some books—however— only exist to be read once, it is only the main idea of the stories that mesmerized us—other aspects of the books are usually disappointing when you read once you’re an adult. Books with heavy language usually become disappointment or boring to read when we read it once we are adult because adults usually try to find an escape when reading a book. Usually, adults are easily moved reading a light but has a deep value book like Totto-chan: A Little Girl at The Window.

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