Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Book Review - Totto-chan: The Little Girl at the Window by Tetsuko Kuroyanagi

Title: Totto-chan: The Little Girl at the Window 窗邊的小徹, 窗邊的小荳荳, 小徹在學校裏, 愛心教育
Author: Tetsuko Kuroyanagi 黒柳徹子
Year: 1981 (1984 in English)
Page: 232
Genre: Memoir

FTC Disclosure: I bought this one

Summary (from

This engaging series of childhood recollections tells about an ideal school in Tokyo during World War II that combined learning with fun, freedom, and love. This unusual school had old railroad cars for classrooms, and it was run by an extraordinary man-its founder and headmaster, Sosaku Kobayashi-who was a firm believer in freedom of expression and activity.

In real life, the Totto-chan of the book has become one of Japan's most popular television personalities-Tetsuko Kuroyanagi. She attributes her success in life to this wonderful school and its headmaster.
The charm of this account has won the hearts of millions of people of all ages and made this book a runaway bestseller in Japan, with sales hitting the 4.5 million mark in its first year.

First Sentence: 
They got off the Oimachi train at Jiyugaoka Station, and Mother took Totto-chan by the hand to lead her through the ticket gate.

My Thoughts:

  • I hardly ever re-read books. I read this book, in Chinese, when I was a kid and loved it. I had re-read the version multiple times, though the last time I read it was probably 15-20 years ago. I left that book for my sister when I moved to the US. Since there are no Chinese bookstores nearby, and for one reason or another I never looked into Chinese online bookstore, I found an English version on ebay instead. I bought it a while back, and never got around to reading it. A few years later, I was thinking about this book and totally forgot I already bought a copy, so I bought it off ebay again. I didn't know until later when I organized my bookshelf... Even after buying the 2nd copy, I didn't read it until this year when I had the urge to read it again. 
  • I was almost a bit afraid to re-read in case it didn't live up to the expectation - sometimes, memories are better than reality. Plus I had never read the English version before, so I didn't want to be disappointed because of the translation (granted, it was originally written in Japanese, so my Chinese version was still a translation...) 
  • But I should not have worried. I still loved this book. This was based on the author's childhood around WWII, the majority of the book was so full of innocence, but the end of the book was heartbreaking. The author (or Totta-chan as she was affectionately known as) was just the cutest girl who was so loving, loyal and creative. I loved the stories about her and her classmates and her dog. Her parents were just so understanding. But most of all, my absolutely favorite was the Principal of the school she went to, Sosaku Kobayashi. He inspired me to be an educator, and I remember I SOOO wished I could have gone to his school, and have teachers like him. He didn't follow the traditional teaching method, instead, he taught in a way that made learning fun. He wanted them to have a balance in their school subjects - so they had music, dance, library, sports, field trips to experience real people's lives (e.g. farmers) and so forth. This is all that more amazing since this was based on a true story.
  • The book was a series of stories. Even though I don't like to read short stories, I have no problem with this book since the characters are still the same. My favorite story was Sports Day - and it really demonstrated the Principal's love for the children - he designed the games himself, so that the children who suffered from physical disability could also participate. He didn't want any children to feel disadvantaged or suffer low self-esteem because of it. And the price for winning? Fresh vegetables! How brilliant is that?
  • The English version also had an epilogue - I don't recall this section in the Chinese version (the English version I had was published in 1996). It talked about what happened to everyone in the book years later, and I appreciate knowing as I had been wondering all these years! It also included an author's note, where she talked about why she did NOT want to make this into a movie despite all the offers she had.
  • This is a book I highly recommend. Even after all these years, it is still a 5 Stars book for me. I hardly ever gave 5 Stars. I still cry when I read parts of the book. I still wonder why we couldn't have better educational system. I am still inspired. 

No quote, because I'd be quoting the whole book.

Overall Rating:

5 Stars. Can't get any better.

All reviews and posts are copyrighted by Christa @ Mental Foodie. Please do not use or reprint them without written permission.


  1. I know this is one of your all time favourites, glad to know it still holds a special place in your heart.

    I'm glad all the translations are good also.

  2. @Marce - I'm glad the translation work too. In fact, while I was reading it in English, I can almost remember the Chinese passages. I doubt I remember any words for real, but the images that go through my mind while reading is still the same.