Me in the Middle by Ana Maria Machado, translated by David Unger, with illustrations by Caroline Merola
Here’s another intriguing premise from Ana Maria Machado – one of Brazil’s preeminent writers for children, and winner of the highly prestigious 2000 Hans Christian Andersen Award for Writing … this one manages to encompass seven generations. The eponymous ‘me’ is 10-year-old Isabel, who becomes the conduit for three generations in the past and three generations into the future, that is her great-grandmother and her own great-granddaughter.
When Bel’s mother goes on a cleaning “rampage …[s]he cleans and cleans and cleans for two or three days in a row,” she finds a long-forgotten picture of Bel’s great-grandmother, Bisa Bea, when she was a young girl about Bel’s age. So enthralled is Bel with this ancestor she never knew that she begs to take care of the photograph. But Bisa Bea is not content to be silent on the page, and instead magically becomes Bel’s secret companion. Being a proper young lady of her generation, Bisa Bea is never shy about dispensing advice – especially about boys! – inappropriate as it may sometimes be.
Bel soon notices another internal voice, often at odds with Bisa Bea, who turns out to be her own great-granddaughter Beta. Talk about generation gap! How will Bel manage being stuck in the middle …?
In spite of its potentially unusual narrative, the story has too many thudding teaching moments so lacking in subtlety that a young reader unfortunately never gets the chance to think for him or herself. Again, perhaps reading in translation is the main culprit here, or possibly a cultural divide in literary style? Regardless, the end result here proves disappointing at best.
Readers: Middle Grade
Published: 1982, 2002 (United States)