Like much successful juvenile fiction, Kitty in the Middle examines life from a child’s perspective, allowing young readers to identify easily with its characters and situations. Although the novel’s action takes place during World War II, Kitty’s world does not seem unfamiliar to young contemporary readers, because the vision of childhood portrayed has universal currency. The novel’s scope extends no further than schoolyard, neighborhood, and church, so that the historical setting supplies ambience and educational value, without detracting from the universality of childhood experiences. The young reader gains a sense of being a part of a community of children that transcends both geography and time.
The novel encompasses one school year, the unit by which most children measure their lives. Delton recognizes that small matters loom large in childhood and that school is the main stage in every child’s life drama. The small but significant routines of the school day so familiar to all young people are effectively dramatized in Kitty in the Middle. The fear of being called on by the teacher, the thrill of Valentine’s Day, and the first crush on a schoolmate will all resonate with schoolchildren, particularly girls. The anticipation of a new school year—accompanied by such overwhelmingly urgent questions as “Who is my teacher?” “Who is my class?” and “What will I wear?”—is dramatized both by Kitty’s trepidation...
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Kitty in the Middle, Judy Delton’s first novel, is also the first book in the Kitty series, which includes a prequel, Kitty from the Start (1987), and the sequels Kitty in the Summer (1980) and Kitty in High School (1984). A prolific author, Delton also created the Angel series, including Back Yard Angel (1983), Angel in Charge (1985), Angel’s Mother’s Boyfriend (1986), and Angel’s Mother’s Baby (1989), and the popular Pee Wee Scouts books, a series of easy books for very young readers.
The Kitty books are directly descended from Maud Hart Lovelace’s Betsy-Tacy and Tib series, published in the 1940’s, including Betsy-Tacy (1940) and Betsy-Tacy and Tib (1941). The books share a Minnesota setting, a triumvirate of friends, a focus on the details of childhood, and corresponding characters. Tacy, like Mary Margaret, sports “sausage curls” and comes from a large, devout Catholic family, while Tib, like Eileen, is a no-nonsense, pampered only child. Betsy, the series’ central figure is, like Kitty, the “in-the-middle” character, a girl in the process of discovering her own identity and place in the world.
Judy Delton, like Beverly Cleary in such books as Henry Huggins (1950), Ellen Tebbits (1951), and Beezus and Ramona (1955), creates a warm, comforting, and familiar childhood world in which young readers can immerse themselves and believable characters with which they can identify. Kitty in the Middle fits snugly into this tradition of fiction that treats childhood in a realistic, insightful way, making its young readers feel at home and its older readers nostalgic for their own childhood days.