Friday, November 13, 2009

Totto-Chan - in Chinese, no less

I've mentioned before that we don't read enough Chinese books in this household. I'm always mindful that the habit needs to be instilled but you know, we just never get to it.

Part of the problem is picking the books. When we're at the library trying to sort through the ineligible (for me) shelves of books with Chinese squiggles, it's always "too hard", "too simple", "got hanyu pinyin", "too boring", "too history book", "too moralistic" or something else.

So when the Chinese tutor lent Lesley-Anne this Chinese book to read over the holidays, it was a welcome gesture.

It's actually the Chinese version of the famous Japanese children's book, Totto-Chan: The Little Girl at the Window. For the uninitiated, the book is a memoir by Tetsuko Kuroyanagi, a Japanese UNICEF Goodwill Ambassador, who wrote about her unconventional education during World War II at Tomoe Gakuen, a Tokyo elementary school. The protaganist Totto-Chan was expelled from a regular school for disuptive behaviour but was recognised by Mr Kobayashi, the principal of Tomoe Gakuen, as an imaginative and curious child with a thirst for life's wonders. From her eyes, the reader sees the how Mr Kobayashi harnesses his unusual outlook towards learning and children to help his wards enjoy a happy childhood and appreciate the simple things in life despite the war.

Originally published in 1981, the book has been translated into numerous languages and remains the best selling book in Japanese history.

I've read the English version (in fact, I'm sure I have it somewhere but can't seem to locate it) and while it's a charming and heart-warming story, my frank opinion is that the style of writing is a little boring. I attribute this purely to the translated text - I'm pretty sure it's much more engaging in its original language.

The Chinese version holds more promise, probably because the Japanese and Chinese languages have more in common in terms of sentence structure and form than Japanese and English. Lesley-Anne is enjoying the Chinese version. To her, many Chinese books focus too much on the description of settings which is uninteresting whereas this book tells the story with much dialogue and in a more narrative manner.

So this is one of my rare recommendations for Chinese books. It's a fun story, though it's probably more suitable for girls. If you need some Chinese reading material for your kids, you might like to look this one up at the library.

5 comments:

mariposa said...

Hey, my daughter read the English version of this book when she was in P6! I read the book too subsequently, but now can't remember much of it. Till today she has a fascination with Japanese culture and media, even selecting university courses that have to do with these.

She never took to any Chinese books though. She prefers Japanese culture to Chinese culture. She would heatedly deny it if anyone tells her there are a lot of similarities between the two. Perhaps having grown up with 'Chinese culture' shoved down her throat (being very much 'angmoh' at heart), and having been daily bombarded by cheap Chinese commercialism, she has only seen the repressive and tacky side of Chineseness. She has never really learnt Chinese to the extent that she grows to love the depths and historical richness of the culture.

When I was in Sec school there was a period when I was hooked on to Chinese sword-fighting novels. It really helped my proficiency in the language at least during that spate of time, though educators kept telling us that those novels are 'unhealthy.' I guess they are 'unhealthy' in the sense that some would consider Harry Potter 'unhealthy.' They are great page turners, and for people who have zero interest in reading more 'serious' Chinese literature, they are much better than nothing! If I remember correctly, a couple of the well known authors of Chinese sword-fighting novels were then 'Jin Yeung' and 'Gu Long'.

On Oct 17th '09, ST featured a prolific local Chinese author called Tham Yew Chin, whose pen name is 'You Jin'. When I was in higher-pri and lower-sec, I loved reading her novels, which were nearly all romantic, travel journals. Now I simply want to get hold of her novels again, for the sake of nostalgia. But I can't seem to locate them on the internet yet... wait a minute, maybe I shall try the Popular website!

YY.

mariposa said...

Ah yes, I found them!

https://www.popular.com.sg/jsp/product/product_search.jsp?vca001=100&vas001=ARTISTS&KEYWORD=you+jin&search.x=0&search.y=0

YY.

HLin said...

Hi Auntie Monica!

I read the chinese version last year and I can still remember the whole story vividly! I like Totto-Chan's father a lot because he really loves and care for Totto-chan, who is really brilliant. I remember a part where Totto-chan's father told her to memorise pi, and she did it really well! And that reminds me of Auntie Lilian's son, Sean!

monlim said...

YY: Thanks for the recs! Will attempt to look for them at the library.

HLin: I figured the story would appeal to girls. I'd forgotten that bit about her memorising pi!

mariposa said...

Continuing from my comment on Chinese sword-fighting novels, I would consider them more like 'Lord of the Rings' than 'Harry Potter.' They are tales of epic quests and struggles against evil, and are full of fantastical/mythic personalities and strange characters. Some even have correlations with actual historical events.

YY.

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