So What Are You Reading?

Reviews of Books.

Friday, February 17, 2006


Totto-Chan: the Little Girl at the Window. Tetsuko Kuroyanagi

Totto-Chan: the Little Girl at the Window is a delightful memoir by a Japanese TV personality and philanthropist on her earliest education experience at a non-traditional school in Tokyo just before and during what she calls The Pacific War.

The book's simple prose, suitable for older elementary school children, reveals lasting pedagogical attitudes of self-respect, freedom of expression, joy of discovery, and community of scholars that are timeless lessons for parents and teachers as well as students. They show the best side of a Japan that was lost forever in the war. The saccharine innocence of the narration may turn some people off and appeal to others, but it is just a thin veneer for a substantive work on the lasting values of any educational system.

Originally a Japanese bestseller, this English version by Dorothy Britton does an excellent job of translating the child-like writing into beautiful English prose. The book is told from the child's point of view in 61 brief chapters averaging just over 3 pages, and is illustrated with 19 of Chihiro Iwasaki's delightful pictures of children.

The chapters follow the author through 4 years of her life at the Tomoe Gakuen an elementary school headed by Sosaku Kobayashi. He had gone to Europe twice to study the Eurythmics method of teaching music of Jaques-Dalcroze (not to be confused with the similarly named movement theory Eurythmy of Rudolf Steiner). He started his school in six abandoned railroad cars in 1937 only to see it destroyed in the American bombing of Tokyo in 1945.

At the end of the book is a Postscript that tells the background of Tomoe Gakuen and its founder and how the author came to write the book. This is followed by an Epilogue that tells what happened later in life to some of the people in the book.

Although now over 20 years old, this is a highly-recommended title for elementary school teachers and parents of young children.

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