My Neighbor Totoro, by Tsugiko Kubo (VIZ Media LLC, 192 pages, Oct. 2013). It is just exactly the sort of book I like, and the fact that I have never seen the movie on which the book was based perhaps added to my enjoyment, because I didn't know what to expect.
Here's what it has, which is just about a check list of my favorite fictional things:
Sisters. The two main characters are eleven-year-old Satsuki and her little sister Mei (four years old) who have moved out to the country to be closer to the sanitarium where their mother is recovering from T.B. Because their archaeologist father still has to work, a lot of the housekeeping, cooking, and looking after Mei falls on Satsuki's shoulders, and she has to try really hard to keep things going (which is sometimes difficult).
An emotionally moving plot. The girls miss their mother something fierce, and of course vice versa, and love each other, and their father is loving too, and it is very poignant and I wanted to hug everybody.
The old house in the country. It is a ramshackle old house, but charming, and it's set in a beautiful garden with a stream and old trees and a space to grow vegetables and it is lovely. And, as mentioned above, there are many opportunities for house cleaning and cooking, so much more fun to read about than to actually do....
The magical element that makes it all enchanting. This would be the titular neighbor, Totoro...and other denizens of the spirit world who live nearby. The fantasy bits are magical as all get out without taking over the story, and it all works very well. It's possible that a different reader might want more of the fantasy part....I would have been happy to see more of Totoro (and the cat bus)--Totoro only appears four times, if I remember correctly, but it was fine with me the way it was.
So the whole package is just lovely, and the illustrations by Miyazaki are charming, and the fact that it is set in Japan made all my favorite story elements fresh and new.
Mostly I pass books I've gotten for review on to my public library. Sometimes I put them on my boys' shelves. This one I'm keeping for me.
disclaimer: review copy received from the publisher for Cybils purposes