Thursday, July 21, 2005

Maudie in the Middle and Building Pictures

The children’s book Maudie in the Middle by Phyllis Reynolds Naylor and Lura Schield Reynolds is fiction based upon Mrs. Reynold’s childhood in the early 1900s. The tag line on the front cover of my Dell Yearling copy from 1990 reads, “Would you want six brothers and sisters?” Maudie, as the title implies, is right in the middle age-wise, which leaves her feeling lost in the shuffle sometimes. In school she’s also stuck in the middle, as the only third grader in the one-room school.

In some ways, the book is a nearly continuous description of how people lived on an Iowa farm in those days, but there are some fun story lines and some drama, too. Much of the book revolves around Maudie’s rather misguided (and covert, and sometimes quite funny) quest to be her aunt’s godchild. Maudie’s not sure what a godmother is, precisely, but her schoolmate Anne has a godmother – Anne’s mother’s best friend, as it happens – who takes Anne places and buys her presents and “…if anything ever happened to her own mother, this friend was to take care of Anne and love her always.” Maudie decides it would be great to have a godmother for herself, further decides that her Aunt Sylvie would be perfect, and “So, whenever Maudie was around her Aunt Sylvie she tried to be perfect, in the hope that some day, when she was ten, perhaps, Aunt Sylvie would announce to the family that Maudie was to be her godchild.”

Need I mention that an eight-year-old girl who thinks it is important to be perfect is marching headlong into disappointment? Need I mention that her fear of letting anyone know what she’s up to doesn’t help?

I don't mean to imply that Maudie is prissy or sugary sweet. Not by a long shot. When she feels put upon she cooks up schemes like playing Blind Man's Bluff on the roof with two of her brothers. Maudie has a knack for getting into trouble, despite her repeated attempts to be as good as she possibly can be.

Chapter Three is called “Building Pictures” after a game Maudie and the others played at school. The teacher would designate one child to be “it” to get the game going. Everyone who wasn’t "it" would bow his or her head and close his or her eyes. The person who was "it" - in this case Maudie - tapped other children on the head, took them to the front of the class, set them up in a “picture” – in this case, See no evil, hear no evil, speak no evil – and then the teacher would let the other children look for two seconds. Then heads went back down and eyes were closed again. Then the children who were in the picture hurried as noiselessly as possible back to their desks. When the teacher called “Heads up” everyone tried to remember who had been at the front of the room and how they’d been posed. The first one to guess correctly got to be “it” for the next round.

A good friend says he played something like this in Boy Scouts, only they called it “Photograph.”

Anybody who just murmured that this game sounds like a piece of cake is invited to try it before making such a silly statement a second time. And don’t cheat. You get two seconds to take everything in.

Maudie in the Middle is currently out of print, and a quick check of market prices shows that, while there are a few inexpensive copies floating around, the prices are beginning to inch upward on this title, with quite a few copies at or near ten dollars today. (Of course, that's this afternoon. You never know with used book prices...)

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