The Girl in the Wind

I did this sketch about a year and a half ago, on the back of an A1 drawing I had pinned up, and didn’t finish colouring until very recently. The reason for it to be picked up again, along with several illustrations of the same style, was that I had been re-reading Totta-chan: The little girl at the Window by Tetsuko Kuroyanagi, and gotten inspired. If you’re a Vietnamese about the same age as I am (born between 1984 and 1987), you’re bound to have read or at least heard of this title before, more likely so if you’re a girl.

It was my first book. I started learning to read when I was 4 and I finished Totto-chan when I was 4 and a half. I remember vividly stroking its salmon-pink cover lovingly, looking at its beautiful illustrations, and imagining being the main character. My mum told me I had been a pretty stubborn girl at that age, insisted reading Totto-chan to her every day. In fact I believe I insisted reading it to everyone I met. That’s how much I loved the book. Mum would have been really exhausted and sleepy after a day at work, and I would sit leaning on the headboard and start reading to her. She would have felt asleep about a page into the story and I would start waking her up asking questions. Really, the patience that she had and still has for me! But I know that beautiful memory of me reading to my mum while she was sound asleep will stay with me for the rest of my life, as the very heart of peace.

Totto-chan is an engaging series of childhood recollections written by Kuroyanagi in the early 80s. It tells the story of an ideal school in Tokyo during the World War II that combined learning with fun, freedom, and love – Tomoe. The unusual school had old train carriages for classrooms, and was run by an equally extraordinary man – its founder and headmaster – Sosaku Kobayashi. He understood children from the tiniest things such as the way they walked, and was a firm believer in freedom of expression and activity. At that time in Japan, when girls were taught to be ‘only seen, not heard’, Mr. Kobayashi told the boys of Tomoe to respect and take care of their girl friends. That simple gesture proves how avant-garde he was. I believe I would speak for thousands of children my generation when saying Tomoe was the school I always wanted to go to, and Mr. Kobayashi was the Headmaster I always wanted to have. The tales of Totto-chan won my heart and I urge you to read it here if you haven’t. 

original illustrations

Tetsuko attributes her success in life to this wonderful school Tomoe and its headmaster. Sometimes, as April once emailed me, it’s all about people and mentorship. Before attending Tomoe, Totto-chan had been expelled from her old school for being a nuisance. Little could they imagine that small girl would turn out to be one of the most successful authors in Japan, and a Goodwill ambassador for UNESCO, if it weren’t for Mr. Kobayashi who kept telling her ‘You’re really a good girl, you know’. That sentence shaped her entire life, no less.

There, you had it – the story of how I came up with my ideas. Well, one of them. I read Totto-chan and loved its illustrations. So I thought I would give it a go. My ‘girl in the wind’ is not nearly as good, but I love her dearly, as much as I loved Totto-chan when I was a 4-year-old little girl :) 


P.S.: Little girl in the wind has a few other friends I’m working on, shall post them in the very near future!


martha said...

thats a very sweet illustration hien,i love the colours and the ribbon being blown away! :))

Bella Kotak said...

I agree it's really lovely! and so's your story. I'm bookmarking the link.. will save it for bed time reading :) Thanks for sharing and looking forward to meeting all the other little friends!

Hien said...

I hope you'll enjoy the book as much as I did. It's one of those stories that really move you, swinging from heartbreakingly sad to laugh-out-loud funny :)

April said...

I must go read this! I am Vietnamese, born in your age bracket, and a girl - and I have never read this!!! I must go do that now.

Love love love the illustration darling <3. Love the wind part, love the girl part, love the colors, love the story, love everything!!

Anh said...

Love the illustration. I'm a big fan of totochan!! :)

Anonymous said...

hello hien, just came across this blog of yours. its a wonderful sketch. i was more inspired by your inspiration -toto Chan , this character has been one of my favourites. i already managed to work on exhibition based on book. with few my young students. it recieved a good success. good one. -

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