The basic gist of the story follows two sisters who have relocated to the countryside with their professor father, while their mother recuperates in a convalescent hospital (it's unclear what she has, maybe tuberculosis or some kind of lung infection? she recovers so don't get stressed.)
Anyway, in their rural new home, the girls make friends with some forest spirits who live nearby and only can be seen by children - there are tiny pixie-ish creatures called soot sprites, there are little rabbit-y looking creatures and there is a very LARGE creature called Totoro (which means forest spirit), as well as a magical living cat bus. These creatures befriend the girls as they process their new surroundings and their sadness over living apart from their mama while she's ill.
The movie is magical. Just flipping magical, and so sweet, and the sister relationship between 11 year old Satsuki and her little sister Mei is charming and feisty and lovingly detailed in the film. And now that I've raved (again) about the movie, let's talk about why anyone would need the 'My Neighbor Totoro' book.
The book was published to celebrate the 25th anniversary of the film, and the ART - there are new original pictures for the story that were created by director/artist Hayao Miyazaki himself, specifically made for this book and found nowhere else. The illustrations perfectly fit into what you might recall from the film, but have a beautifully sage green, sketch-like quality - they're like gorgeous storyboard artworks, kind of like you would imagine Miyazaki drawing as he was fleshing out his concept art for the movie.
There's also a map in the front of the book, showing the landscape and special locations that are relevant to the storyline. I LOVE MAPS IN BOOKS.
There are descriptions of the girls' thoughts and of their actions that you don't get in the movie, which is gorgeous in its simplicity and in what it doesn't say. But in the book you get MORE. You get more plot, more story, more words describing the forest landscape - you just get MORE. If you were at all longing for more depth to the story than what you got in the movie, trust me, it's all here in the book.
Oh and a few weeks ago, the last of my peonies started falling off on to my table and I was so sad to see them go, and then I realized how nicely they would serve as a backdrop for the book, (because I only think in terms of what would make for good backdrops for my books????) so they got to serve one more beautiful purpose, after keeping us stocked in peony bouquets for a good solid month.
So let's sum up - friends who have not seen 'Totoro' the movie - OMG go right now. And friends who have seen it - let's revel in how amazing it is. SO AMAZING. And exhale. And all friends together - this book is fabulous, whether you've seen the movie or not. (it would be great as a read-aloud for 6-8 year olds and great for independent reading for 7-10 year olds) Everything about 'Totoro' in any shape or form is just a win-win-win.
Update : Ok I have lost my mind and now officially lost track of what I've done posts on - I already did a post on this book 2 years ago and TOTALLY FORGOT - here it is - with different pictures that I've shown here so I guess it's all good and the subject bears repeating, but seriously - I need to keep a master list oh my word.