An autobiographical memoir written by Japanese television personality and UNICEF goodwill ambassador Tetsuko Kuroyanagi, published in 1981, Totto-Chan: the little girl at the window is a story of children education against the backdrop of World War II. Set in Japan, the book has been translated in a number of languages. It’s high time that the education systems around the world not only give importance to result but also teach children the real meaning of life, reviews Mohima Rahman
MANY of us are current students. If not then we had been. So the situations are not at all unknown to us. Ever heard of having classes in rail compartments or imagined having so? Read favourite subjects in your own preferred period in school? No punishment or scolding for the lessons? Is it only possible in our thoughts and imaginations? No, it is also possible in real life.
Totto-Chan: the little girl at the window is exactly about the school life of a girl which will change stereotypical perception about education system, ways of learning and leading life. This book is so inspiring that no description can do justice to it. Only reading the book can give that pleasure of leaving in those moments and reliving the fun with the characters.
This is an autobiographical memoir written by Japanese television personality and UNICEF goodwill ambassador Tetsuko Kuroyanagi. The book was published in 1981 and became an instant bestseller in Japan.
The book is about the values of the unconventional education that Tetsuko received at Tomoe Gakuen, a Tokyo elementary school founded by educator Sosaku Kobayashi during the World War II. After hearing about how children are refusing to attend school, Tetsuko decided to write about her experience attending Tomoe Gakuen.
This book is translated in English, Bangla, Arabic, Chinese, Burmese, Korean, Tamil, Malayalam, Hindi, Italian, German, Russia and many other languages. The plot is so strong that from 1983 it has been used as a text book for third-year elementary students in different countries.
Totto-Chan is childishly notorious and excited about everything around her. The story begins with the description of events during her way to new school. The reason for that is she had been expelled from her previous school. Her activities in the previous school were really funny but it created complexities for her teacher that she became fed up with Totto-Chan. She couldn’t take classes as no one could concentrate. So, she was kind of forced to expel Totto-Chan.
After arriving at the new school Totto-Chan became astonished. She couldn’t believe what she was seeing. Train compartments as class rooms! She became excited to study in that school. Her mother who was tensed told her that if she has a proper word with the principal she would be able to study in that school otherwise not. After thinking Totto-Chan decided to abide by it.
The principal was old but jolly. He had a different kind of way while dealing with children. He made her comfortable and listened to Totto-Chan attentively. She actually talked for four hours continuously. The principals behaviour made her feel secure and wanted. She maybe was a little different from others but she also had capabilities of being successful if leaded with care and warmth.
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 emphasises on how all children are remarkable in their individuality.
Totto-Chan makes best friends with a Christian boy who has polio. Another classmate was raised in America for all his life and cannot speak Japanese, and the headmaster tells the children to learn English from him, despite governmental restraints of using the ‘enemy's’ language. The epilogue explains how headmaster Kobayashi had good connections with leaders in the government.
But in this the school, the children lead happy lives, unaware of the things going on in the outside world. World War II has started, yet in this school, no signs of it are seen. 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 learnt the harsh truth of life through the death of her friends. The small wonders and adventures of the children was slowly and surely engulfed by war, eventually Tomoe Gakuen was burnt to the ground during a bombing, and was never rebuilt, even though the headmaster claims that he looked forward to building an even better school the next time round. This ends Totto-Chan’s years as a pupil at Tomoe Gakuen.
Totto-Chan is a story, which touches the heart of the reader. It has everything that a reader needs — laughter, innocence, happiness, warmth, hard work, love, tears and realisations. No wonder it never fails to amaze both children and adults alike.
In one sense, this can be termed as a children literature. It is the story of the journey of a child from what she was to what all she can become. It poses a sharp satire on the machine of formal education in Japan. It proves that a child whom the normal education system rejected can become a bestselling author, journalist, and above all, a loved personality.
Another crucial aspect of the book is war. Children realise the cruelties and difficulties of war through this book. By interspacing happiness and war, Tetsuko has succeeded in embroidering the pains of war and gains of happiness to the hearts of the reader. This is so valuable since the readers are mainly children.
In present world, learning has become only a way to success. Parents want children to study hard to earn money and lead a luxurious lifestyle. No one wants to settle for less. But it is really important to make people understand that the competitiveness from small age, forcing children to do things without their interest is creating problem for their mental health. Learning should be interesting. It’s high time that the education system not only give importance to result but also to teach the children real meaning and purpose of life.
Totto-Chan-the little girl at the window will not only give readers a pleasant time but also create social awareness. How many times you may have read it you can’t get enough of it. It is truly a book to read and cherish. It is a true combination from which readers get to enjoy and also have some inspiration.
Mohima Rahman is a student of Holy Cross College
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