My seven-year-old and I have been ardent fans of Studio Ghibli movies, and have gradually amassed quite a collection of the animated features. I've also been building up a library of the picture books as they contain many of the beautiful, vivid artwork found in the feature films and the text in each book capture the essence of each movie.
The story of "My Neighbor Totoro" is simple and sweet without being overly cloying. A father and his two daughters, Satsuki and Mei, move to the countryside whilst their mother recovers from an illness in the hospital. There, the sisters discover that their home is haunted by benign spirits and the younger sister Mei discovers a creature named Totoro which is a forest spirit (he looks like an oversized bunny). Totoro is a sight to behold - his large appearance and loud growls belie a gentle nature, one which is in harmony with Mother Nature. One night, as the sisters wait for their father at the bus-stop, older sister Satsuki finds Totoro standing beside her in the rain. The sisters then witness an unusual sight - a cat which is also a bus, which looks like it was inspired by Lewis Carroll's Cheshire cat!
There are no villains in this charming and engaging story, and I found that quite refreshing. Even the mother's illness is vague and not a real cause for concern except perhaps in the later part of the story when Mei goes missing trying to find the hospital her mother is in. My daughter could not get enough of Totoro and begged for repeated viewings. She loves the giant, endearing creature and would watch with rapt fascination each time Totoro appeared on screen. She first watched Totoro when she was five and is still a great fan two years later. There is a magical quality about Studio Ghibli movies that make them classics one will want to watch over and over.
I loved the gentle ecological message of being in harmony with nature - Totoro bequests a gift of seeds to the sisters which they plant in their garden. This is a sweet story perfect for any age, and the book makes an excellent companion to the movie.