A few months ago, a couple of 12 year old children and I read Tetsuko Kuroyanagi’s autobiographical novel Totto-chan: The Little Girl at the Window over a period of four weeks. It was a delightful journey! And, I was not surprised when I found out that this book, originally written in Japanese has been translated into 16 languages! Totto-chan was happy, charming, persistent, hopeful and above all truly herself. And when you are truly yourself, the structured ways of conventional life can create challenges. This is what happened to her. Unable to understand her unique ways, her first school decided to expel her. But, her kind and wise mother knew that this could leave a deep scar on the child. So, without telling her the reason, she took her to a school where she would be accepted for who she is. The new school was as unique as Totto-chan. With train coaches for classroom, it was run by a principal trained in Dalcroze Eurthymics, Sosaku Kobayashi, a man much ahead of his times. He was a teacher who loved and honoured his students, no matter who they were or where they come from. A teacher who understood that each child needed to progress at his or her own pace and created a space for that to happen.
This story is truly exceptional, and made the students, who I read it with very happy. Their only disappointment was with the way the book ended. When they found out that the school was burnt down during WW2, they said to me, “How can a story so hopeful and happy, end like this?” They felt wronged and although I tried my best to convince them, that sometimes life takes unexpected turns, I was unable to uplift their spirits much. However, this did not dilute the joy that reading Totto-chan brought to them. It is a book that will stay in hearts and minds for a long time to come.
The reading of this book was accompanied with a few activities. One of them was writing haikus. You can find a few haikus written by the children below: