This was such a cute children’s book! As a 23 year old with no kids, I’m not necessarily the target audience, but I still liked it.
Since this book was about dreams it gave me a lot of Alice in Wonderland vibes. The main character, Merel, encountered many interesting and unique characters throughout her journey. A few of them reminded me of various Alice characters. For example, King Marmott reminded me of the Queen of Hearts because they were both pretty awful rulers who chased after the title character.
The other characters were great as well. I especially loved Merel’s encounter with the moonfish. That was my favorite part.
The book had a whimsical quality about it that went perfect with the dream theme. The author created a beautiful world with her prose.
I loved how the flashbacks to Merel’s real life were woven into the story. Each little flashback gave insight into Merel, her life, and her sick baby brother.
I would have loved to seen a map or illustrations because I feel like that could take the book to a whole other level.
I also wished the book was a tad bit longer, but that’s probably because I’m an adult not a kid. The book is an appropriate length for a young reader.
Overall, this book was a fun adventure through a child’s dreamland that both kids and adults will enjoy.
Mei, Satsuki, and their father, Tatsuo, move into a crumbling old house in the country in order to be closer to the sanatorium where their mother, Yasuko, is recovering from tuberculosis. The girls adapt to their new rural life pretty quickly, although four-year-old Mei doesn't respond well to being left with their neighbor while Tatsuo is at work and Satsuki is at school.
Both girls realize there's something a little strange about their house when they first arrive. They briefly spot little beings called soot sprites, and Kanta, the boy who lives near them, tells them that their house is haunted. Then Mei starts talking about having met a being she calls Totoro and who Tatsuo believes is a forest spirit. Satsuki longs to see Totoro too.
I wasn't sure what to expect when I read this. Would it be a stiff and soulless adaptation of the movie, or would it be able to hold its own in the face of the movie's sweetness? I'm happy to say that it fell into the latter category. Although I still prefer the movie, the book was a breeze to read, added things to the overall story that the movie couldn't, and had much of the same charm as the original movie.
(I should briefly explain that I'm most familiar with the English dub of the movie. I'm not sure if I've even watched it in Japanese with English subtitles yet. Some of the information "missing" from the movie could possibly have been translation decisions when creating the dub, editing the script to better match mouth flaps. I won't know until I watch the movie with subtitles, and even then translator decisions are in play.)
The book was more direct about explaining exactly why Tatsuo, Satsuki, and Mei moved out into the country, explicitly naming Yasuko's illness. There were more mentions about what Satsuki and Mei's life used to be like, back in the city, and even one portion of the book where they briefly went back to the city. Yasuko was slightly more in the foreground - the book included letters she wrote to her children while at the sanatorium. I got a stronger picture of her personality here than I did in the movie. She seemed like a dreamer.
In general, I'd say that the bones of this book were about the same as the movie. A few scenes were added, and there were more details about the history of the house the family moved into, and Satsuki's efforts to learn how to cook different foods over an actual fire without burning them. I really enjoyed these additions.
One thing that disappointed me a little, however, was that the fantasy aspects were scaled back. In the movie, viewers' first exposure to Totoro happened when Mei chased after a little Totoro and ended up finding Totoro's napping spot. All of this happened on-screen. These same things happened in this book as well, but for some reason the author chose to focus on Satsuki instead of Mei. Mei told Satsuki and her father what she'd experienced, but there was no evidence that any of it was real, rather than the dreams or imaginings of a child. The first on-page appearance of Totoro didn't happen until the bus scene. The ending was also altered slightly - the scene where Mei and Satsuki watched their mother and father from a tree didn't happen. I was at least glad that all the Catbus scenes were included.
The focus of this book seemed to be slightly more on the relationship between the two sisters and their barely-spoken-of fear that their mother might die and never come home, as well as the girls' growing independence as they adapted to rural life. It was lovely, but, as I said, I did miss some of the Totoro stuff. All in all, this was an excellent novelization that I'd definitely recommend to fans of the movie.
Several illustrations (black and white sketches with maybe a watercolor wash?), including a color map of Matsugo, the place where the Kusakabe family moved. The map also gives the exact year this story took place, 1955, so I suppose this could be considered historical fiction.
(Original review posted on A Library Girl's Familiar Diversions.)
The prologue begins with an opening line reminiscent of A Christmas Carol: "First of all, it was October, a rare time for boys."
Forty or so years ago I read this and identified with the boys, of course I did. This time I couldn't. So it was just a bunch of wordplay and monologuing and there was no horror to it anywhere, just an ad for an imaginary place I wouldn't be welcome. He did say some nice things about libraries, though, so I'm giving it a couple of stars.
I think I have already read this one, but I don't have a record of that, so leave it at maybe. Of course, this one didn't get logged last week when read, because they get knocked out in one quick sitting, then immediately on to the next thing. Volume 2 is out now, so a refresher was necessary. Like Paper Girls and Lumberjanes, strange things are afoot and it could be anything. It is so gratifying to read about girls having adventures just like they are real people. Kudos for Westerfeld who puts female and minority characters front and center, without making it the point. If I can get #2, I'm going to use it for my New Release.
Puvilland has different styles and palettes that set off the sheer strangeness of what Poughkeepsie has become. Approaching it from the woods in particular puts me in mind of footage from Chernobyl twenty years later.