Totto-Chan: The Little Girl at the Window, is a series of childhood recollections arranged in chronological order by Tetsoko Kuroyanagi. After being expelled from Primary School for being disruptive, her mother finally found the perfect school in unconventional Tomoe.
Tomoe sounds like a fantastic school. To start with, the school "gate" consists of two growing trees and classes are held in train carriages. In a country known for rote-studying, Tomoe lets it's students decide how they want to study. Each morning, the students are told their assignments and they have the rest of the day to finish them. It really is self-study.
Totto-chan, being a lively girl, gets into all sorts of 'adventures' at Tomoe. She drops her purse into the toilet and ends up scooping out a sizeable portion of the sewage tank in an attempt to find the purse. She crawls back-and-forth underneath a wire fence as a game.
Tomoe is an equally fun school. They have camping trips, a very unusual sports day, and even spend one day learning how to farm. The school master, Mr Kobayashi really loves children, and you can see it through the way he treated them with respect. Throughout the book, you can see how he subtly encourages them and finds activities that they enjoy and learn from.
But the book isn't always lighthearted. Totto-chan does encounter sadness and there are several parts of the book that always make me tear-up.
But mid-way through the book, the idyllic school-life starts to get interrupted by World War II. Slowly, the children's lives become harder and one of the final episodes of the book is their tea-party to send held off the school janitor Ryo-chan to the frontlines. Soon after that, Tomoe tragically burns down and the book comes to an end.
In conclusion, I cannot recommend this book highly enough. It's a charming story about a school that I think everyone will want to go to. In fact, I'm now hunting down a Japanese copy so that I can read it in it's original language.