Mothers, fathers and children were living in hiding. They were taking life 10 seconds at a time. Schindler tip-toed and kept adding to his list of the rescued. There would bomb shells be dropped any second and at any place. Wives lived in the fear of their husbands not returning back alive from the war. Children would create imaginations about their hiding places. They resort to diaries. They try adjusting (read fight) with siblings and the fellow inhabitants. Amidst all this strife of the World War II, there was a dream-like school in Japan, school of Tomei, that got destroyed with people killing people and buildings.
‘Totto Chan: The Little Girl Under the Window’ is an autobiography written by the Japanese woman writer Tetsuko Kuroyanagi. The author is the protagonist in her 6 year old form. Tetsuko was called as Totto Chan as a child. While reading the book, you feel that she is sitting in front of you and telling you what happened at school on that day.
Totto Chan was rusticated in her first year of school. Fortunate that the cute little child was, her mother got her admission in the school of Tomei without letting her know that she was expelled. With it’s train compartment like classrooms, facilitating students in connecting with nature, exploring skills in the most bizarre forms, the Head Master of the school made 6 year olds to excitedly run out of their bed each morning to their world of expression. The students of Tomei learn to share and care about every form and shade of life through the openness provided in the school. They are the owners of their learning. They are the makers of their own experiences. Teachers are the facilitators of the holistic growth of children. From hearing from everyone that she is incapable of doing anything in life, Totto Chan gradually believed in herself due to the Head Master telling her that she can do everything.
It is the most beautiful autobiography that one can come across to dive into the ocean of “alternate schools”.
There are races designed so that the slowest child manages to win them. Winners earn vegetables as their prizes so that for one day they can pride at being the bread earners of home. Each child picks a tree in or around the school as a property. Friends invite their friends to visit their tree. Friends ask before going to a friend’s tree. Totto Chan in her most boldly innocent form helps her classmate suffering from Polio to climb the tree without letting anyone know. That is compassion! Somewhere where you don’t imbibe equality but equity. The Head Master encourages the children to swim in the school pool without their clothes. Might seem a bit revolting but this let the students be comfortable in their skin and to not discriminate between the sexes and differentially - abled.
You would want to be a student in this school. Moreover, you would want to be the adorably talkative Totto Chan while reading about how she could treat everything unique about her as her strength and created value in her bubble of her parents, her school and Rocky. Rocky is her dog. Even when in trouble herself, she is desperate to protect him first.
With the onset of the World War II, this quaint little school started fading away as the families began moving out of the country to safer places. The spirit of experiential learning portrayed by the school of Tomei led it’s students towards respectable lives.
Just in case, we questioned the syllabus not being followed by the book, this autobiography is a powerfully beautiful engraving on learning through experiences.
Recommended: To enjoy the cuteness factor of Totto Chan, it is recommended to read the book in Hindi. You can order one for yourself from the National Book Trust.