Summary: 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.
Down through the ages and in the whole world, Watt and Newton cannot have been the only ones to notice the steam from a boiling kettle or observe an apple fall.
A children’s book might be refreshing break from my reading routine. Although I’m a little hesitant to review such a popular book, Totto-chan is such a unique novel that no one can ignore! Plus all the amazing illustrations from Iwasaki!
In the first chapter, Totto-chan seems like a girl that can’t be fixed: just 1st grade and she was already expelled from school. She does not seem to be a ‘normal’ kid who would be a misfit into Japan’s strict and demanding educational system. But as the stories unfold, we see an intellectually curious, courageous and even humorous. A girl so unique, yet so lively, playful and real that is much different from the flat and monotonous characters usually seen in children’s books.
Besides Totto-chan, Kobayashi-sensei is the other central character in the novel: he is not an instructor that gives out information, but an educator that nurtures young minds. And I like how the author’s portrayal of Kobayashi-sensei is not all perfect, listening and smiling all the time. He does get angry – furiously enraged, fearing one of his student might be hurt by a half-hearted joke. He does get mushy with teary eyes when it comes to good-byes. And he does blush knowing how much the children love him. But those furious yells and teary eyes all stem from his love for children and passion for education.
Having eyes, but not seeing beauty; having ears, but not hearing music; having minds, but not perceiving truth; having hearts that are never moved and therefore never set on fire. These are the things to fear, said the headmaster.
Totto-chan is much more than a book for kids: its revolutionary educational values, even today, can be the guiding principles for any parent or educator. What makes Totto-chan significant is that the stories are all genuine memories of Kuroyanagi herself – an influential figure in Japan who dedicated her life to children around the world.
You are a really good girl, you know?
Love, freedom and fun are not enough to describe Kobayashi-sensei’s approach to build young minds. I believe respect – to treat children as grown-ups, is the core to his principles. He would patiently explain to the children how rolling power is used to move a big car, rather than inventing a magical story to shrug it off. When Totto-chan makes a mess, he would tell her to put it all back when she’s finished, rather than scolding or helping her. He trusts, respects and appreciates children – and that’s what makes him a true educator.
Hope you enjoy! xD