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If there's a textual counterpart to Chihiro Iwasaki's paintings, it is this book.

This book is an autobiographical account of Tetsuko Kuroyanagi's childhood in prewar Japan. An incredibly precocious and earnest little girl, she was actually expelled from her first grade public school because she was too disruptive in class:

    The gist of the teacher's story was that after an hour of almost constantly banging her desk top [open and closed] Totto-chan would leave her desk and stand by the window, looking out. Then, just as the teacher was beginning to think that as long as she was quiet she might as well stay there, Totto-chan would suddenly call out to a passing band of garishly-dressed street musicians . . . [they] would put on a rousing performance with clarinet, drums, gongs, and shamisen, whil the poor teacher could do little but wait patiently for the din to stop.

So Totto-chan (Kuroyanagi's childhood nickname, which everyone including herself used) was transfered to a school called Tomoe Gakuen. She was delighted to find that the tiny enrollment of roughly 50 elementary school students did not meet in a classroom, but rather in a set of relocated and remodeled train cars. What fun!

Kuroyanagi goes on to describe the headmaster of the school, a man named Sosaku Kobayashi. He believed that nature and music are of tantamount importance to a child's early education, and his school reflected this ideal - nearly as much time was spent outside as in, and dance and theater were integral to the fluid, ever-changing curriculum.

The book is at once both a charming tale of a little girl's education, and an indictment of traditional educational methods. While it's true that harebrained, government-formulated schemes for "revolutionizing" education rarely work (see new math), sometimes there are different ways of teaching that are not only different but better.

This book, "Madogiwa no Totto-chan", sold incredibly well in Japan when it was published in 1982. It has been translated into several other languages; the English translation was done by Dorothy Britton.

If you're the sort that likes books along the lines of A Little Princess and Anne of Green Gables, this is right up your alley.

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