Nara Kollross

Theme: How has children’s literature in different countries reflected the actual history of country and how has the historical experiences from various periods influenced stories for children?

“How historical personalities have influenced the Brazilian children’s literature”

Ana Maria Machado is one of the greatest writers in Brazil. Throughout her 33 years in career, she has dedicated herself to writing books for children. She has more than 100 published book, including abroad. In 2000 she was awarded with the Hans Christian Andersen prize, due to her magnificent works. Since 2003 she is a member of Academia Brasileira de Letras.

Among hundreds of books published, this paper will analyze Abrindo Caminho, published by Editora Ática in 2003.

Caminho is road, way. There are a lot of ways and while walking through them, the choices can be many. One may choose to go or stand still; come back or go on; may be simply not to walk, just stare the way. For some people it does not matter the way, but the route; for some other the most important is to arrive somewhere.

The world is full of people who pave the way. There are the explorers of lands, seas, air, oceans, deserts. There are also those who pave the way for arts, great personalities in literature, music, sculptures, painting and so on.

Ana Maria Machado in Abrindo caminho  talks about the characters in our History, Who transformed each obstacle into ways, enemies into friends, end in beginning. The poem offers new reading possibilities, from classic literature to Brazilian pop music.

On the cover of the book can be noticed the red hue as background color. Red represents the beginning of life. Dark red represent the female, the secret, the mistery of life. According to CHEVALIER :

this dark and center red is the color of central fire from man and earth, from the womb and from the work of alchemists, where, by the works of red, the digestion takes place, the riping, the generation and regeneration of man or of works.

The almost central picture opens a “framed” rectangle by different icons: sun, arrow-pointed feather, arch, glasses, new moon on the waxing moon, hourglass, tree, compass rose, 14 Bis, guitar, rowing boat, five-point star, Eiffel Tower, ‘flying dragon fish’. On the side one can see the sun, the moon, a star, an object, which might represent the compass rose, a hypothesis which can be accepted due to the main theme in the book. In the middle, on top of the world (globe) there are a couple of children giving hands, whose looks seem to meet each other. In the background a river, a castle with three rooks, blue sky and yellowish clouds.

In its first page, in blue hues, it can be read the dedication to Antonio Carlos Jobim and the picture of a boy pulling a toy car with a piano on it. The boy has a happy look. In the third page, we have the authoring credits and a lozenge inside a circle. Inside the lozenge, there are four objects: telescope, arrow-pointed feather, an arrow, and a bird.

The narrative, in its beginning, rescues and parodies, in a poetic form, the poem In the Middle of the Road by Carlos Drummond, “in the middle of the road there was a dark jungle” or is it paraphrasing the beginning of the Dante Alighieri’s, in the Divine Comedy “in the middle of our life road, I found myself in a dark jungle (...)”.  Just one sentence, but full of poetics, on which reads the intersection between two worlds, Drummond’s as well as Dante’s.  

The illustration, by Elisabeth Teixeira, makes use of a double page; in it we observe the representation of an exponent in world literature, Dante Alighieri, the author of Divine Comedy.  The character is in a red-clear garment and carries in the right-hand a book and an arrow-pointed feather, the same that is also on the cover and third page*. The head is covered by a hood of the same color and with branches of olive tree.  In the left bottom, the representation of a medieval construction.  Would it be a monastery?  That answer should be given by the reader.  Dante is in an open field looking at the hidden forest with different characters: lion, priest, young girl with a rose, devil, angel, tiger, fox and, we can partially see, the leg and the arm of a person, semi-hidden by a tree.  

Dante Alighieri’ work tells about a ‘visit’ to Hell, to Purgatory and to Paradise. This journey, which takes days, is carried out jointly with poet Virgil. He is the one who drives and supports Dante by the different roads, traversed up to the Heaven’s gate, where meets his loved one, Beatriz.  In the journey, beginning of the First Canto – “The Hell”, Dante meets some animals, the first one is a panther, symbol of Lust, which in the poet’s “Canto” represents Florence, city where he was expelled by political motives.  The second animal in the road is a lion, representing Pride.  Then, Envy is represented by a female wolf and its natural enemy, a hunting dog, also appears.  

The characters, which make part of all this illustration, are references to Dante’s work.  While passing through Hell, all these animals are met as well as with the Devil (described in a way that afflicts the reader’s heart). The friar can represent the different ecclesiastical personalities in the narrative.  The angel is cited, in Dante’s, in the book or in the chapter titled “The Paradise”.  Among the trees it is mentioned a person without a face, would that be a symbol of other characters which we come across in Dante’s work?  Would the young girl who holds a rose, on the right side of the illustration, be a representation of Beatriz?  Since his childhood, Dante had a platonic love for Beatriz, much older than him and married.  She is the poet’s muse, being mentioned in sonnets and, in a more sentimental way, in “The Paradise', third chapter of the Divine Comedy.  In Dante’s first marriage, his daughter was named after Beatriz.  

The illustration shows the density of the forest occupying almost the whole page.  In the upper right corner, the Paradise is magnificent, with light and stars, offering the vision of fullness, the unconditional God’s love.  The poet goes to Paradise and the image of the starry sky leaves margin to the reading of the symbolic transposition of Hell by Dante.  

“In the middle of Carlos’s road” is the next phase. The verbal and illustrated texts merge in a perfect symbiosis.  The illustration shows a bald man, wearing eyeglasses, black suit, holding a pen and paper in his hand.  There is a brown suitcase on his right side.  In front of him, there is a small stone and a cliff, down the cliff there is a green field with some trees. The green tone predominates. The green color is the symbol of mediation, tranquility.  Carlos has to his front an obstacle to be transposed, “a stone”, but in the sequence green represents hope.


The stone is small when compared to the green in the mountains. Carlos has his head slightly raised up to the infinite. The stone may symbolize winter, whereas green, vegetation, spring.  The new season is shown by the melting ice, fertilizing rainfalls, birth of new animals.  The cycle of life is repeated and reflects the road of Man in Earth.  

 Carlos Drummond de Andrade

Carlos Drummond de Andrade was born in Itabira, Minas Gerais in 1902. He studied in Belo Horizonte in a boarding school and later in Nova Friburgo, Rio de Janeiro.  In this school, he was accused of “mental insubordination” being then expelled.  In 1921, he started contributing to Jornal de Minas. In 1925, he graduated in Pharmacy.  In 1928, he published the poem “In The Middle of the Road” in Revista Canibalismo.  In August 1934, the poet loses his only daughter, Julieta.  Twelve days later Carlos Drummond dies.  He is considered as one of the greatest Brazilian poets.  

Below we give the whole poem by Carlos Drummond de Andrade, which was a source of inspiration to Ana Maria Machado.

“In the Middle of the Road”
In the middle of the road there was a stone
there was a stone in the middle of the road
there was a stone
in the middle of the road there was a stone.

Never should I forget this event
in the life of my fatigued retinas.
Never should I forget that in the middle of the road
there was a stone
there was a stone in the middle of the road
in the middle of the road there was a stone.

 “In the Middle of Tom’s road there was a river”. Tom is wearing blue jeans, white shirt, looking to the other margin of the river, in the background green mountains.

Antonio Carlos Jobim

Antonio Carlos Jobim was born on January 25, 1927, in Tijuca Neighborhood in Rio de Janeiro. He died in Nova York on December 8, 1994. He died of heart problems. The son of Jorge de Oliveira and Nilza Brasileiro de Almeida Jobim; his only sister, Helena, was a teacher and wrote several books, among them Antônio Carlos Jobim: Um homem iluminado [Antônio Carlos Jobim: an enlightened man]. Jobim got married twice and had four children. João Francisco, his second marriage son died at the age of 18 in a car accident in Rio de Janeiro.

Jobim’s first contacts with music were through a German teacher Hans Joachim Koellreutter.  Tom Jobim and João Gilberto are considered the main creators of one of the most important musical movements in Brazil and in the world, the Bossa Nova.  His compositions are among the main musical masterpieces in the XX century: one of his well-known songs is Waters of March.

Water of March
A stick, a stone, it’s the end of the road
It’s the rest of a stump, it’s a little alone
It’s a sliver of glass, it is life, it’s the sun
It is night, it is death, it’s a trap, it’s a gun
The oak when it blooms, a fox in the brush
A knot in the wood, the song of a thrush
The wood of the wind, a cliff, a fall
A scratch, a lump, it is nothing at all
It’s the wind blowing free, it’s the end of the slope
It’s a beam it’s a void, it’s a hunch, it’s a hope
And the river bank talks of the waters of March
It’s the end of the strain
The joy in your heart
The foot, the ground, the flesh and the bone
The beat of the road, a slingshot’s stone
A fish, a flash, a silvery glow
A fight, a bet the fange of a bow
The bed of the well, the end of the line
The dismay in the face, it’s a loss, it’s a find
A spear, a spike, a point, a nail
A drip, a drop, the end of the tale
A truckload of bricks in the soft morning light
The sound of a shot in the dead of the night
A mile, a must, a thrust, a bump,
It’s a girl, it’s a rhyme, it’s a cold, it’s the mumps
The plan of the house, the body in bed
And the car that got stuck, it’s the mud, it’s the mud
A float, a drift, a flight, a wing
A hawk, a quail, the promise of spring
And the river bank talks of the waters of March
It’s the promise of life, it’s the joy in your heart
A stick, a stone, it’s the end of the road
It’s the rest of a stump, it’s a little alone
A snake, a stick, it is John, it is Joe
It’s a thorn in your hand and a cut in your toe
A point, a grain, a bee, a bite
A blink, a buzzard, a sudden stroke of night
A pin, a needle, a sting a pain
A snail, a riddle, a wasp, a stain
A pass in the mountains, a horse and a mule
In the distance the shelves rode three shadows of blue
And the river talks of the waters of March
It’s the promise of life in your heart
A stick, a stone, the end of the road
The rest of a stump, a lonesome road
A sliver of glass, a life, the sun
A knife, a death, the end of the run
And the river bank talks of the waters of March
It’s the end of all strain, it’s the joy in your heart

Tom composed Water of March in 1972 in his family farm in Poço Fundo, Rio de Janeiro. In the magazine O Pasquim he tells us that he was inspired by the initial verses of a poem by Olavo Bilac, “The Emerald Hunter”.  

The Emerald Hunter
It was in March, at the end of rainfalls, almost in the beginning
Of autumn, when the land, really thirst,
Drank, for a long time, the waters of the season
 Which, in exploration movements, searching emeralds and silver
 In front of the laborers, children of rude jungle
 Fernão Dias Paes Leme entered the sertão.

“It was stick. It was Stone. Was it the end of the road?” The first line from Tom Jobim’s song is the verbal reference of the following page. The illustration shows the image of three characters: Dante, Carlos and Tom. They “look” to blue sea, to the stone in the middle of the road and to the forest. Each one of these elements is directly related to the works of these Men.

Ana Maria Machado makes use of poetical intertextuality in her work. According to KRISTEVA  the intertextuality is part of the literary process being the:

(...) transposition of a (or several) system(s) of signs in other, but as this term has been frequently understood in the vulgar definition of <<critics of sources>> of a text, we prefer another definition: transposition, the advantage that a text has to use a meaningful text from one system in the articulation of another.

The Bakhtinian thought completes the same referential:

The book, that is, the act of printed speech, constitutes equally an element of verbal communication.  It is object of active arguments under the form of dialogue and, beyond that, is done to be understood in an active way, to be deeply studied, commented and criticized in interior talk, not taking into consideration the printed reactions, institutionalized, which are found in the different shapes of verbal communication (critical, reviews, which exercises influence on subsequent works, etc.).  Besides, the act of speech under the form of book is always oriented due to previous interventions in the shape of activity, not only form the author but also form others authors: it elapses therefore the private situation of a scientific problem or of a literary output style.  Thus, the written talk is from a certain point of view part of an ideological argument in big scale: it answers something, refutes, confirms, anticipates the answers and potential objections, search for support, etc.


In the part “Each on in its place, with its place called is. And none of us was alone”. The illustration intertextualizes the cover with the text, meaning, through language, the illustration. A girl (the same one who is in the cover) is apparently reading a book. On the shelf there are several books, among them: encyclopedia, anthology, Bossa Nova, Atlas, Divine Comedy, Fairy Tales, World History, Music, Drummond, poem and also a vase, radio and a small box. Through the window, it can be seen: mountains, a river, and tree; on the right lower corner no canto there is a small green bird looking inside the house.

Birds symbolize spirituality, in many cultures it is observed its connection with the spiritual world, especially related to soul.  CHEVALIER  states the “in Islamic traditions, the name green bird is given to a certain number of saints, and the angel Gabriel has to green wings. The martyrs’ souls will fly to Paradise under the form of green birds (Corão,2, 262).”

Each one of the elements in the illustration makes a reference to the story. Perfect harmony between the verbal and the illustrated.  The illustration tells the story of History.  

 “In the middle of Dante’s road there was a route. In the middle of Carlos’s road there was a tunnel. In the middle of Tom’s way there was a bridge”. Again Dante, Carlos and Tom are together, but now in the girl’s hand. The main focus of the illustration, as in zoom, gets closer to the book, giving the impression that it is the illustration of the work, taking a closer look it can be seen the character’s hands  in the bottom right holding the pages. What makes us ask: would be the book in analysis, the book being read by the character itself? Does literature copy life or is it life which copies literature?


“In the middle of Cris’s road there was an ocean”. Who might be Cris? A new character? Yes, again a historical reference, Christopher Columbus (*1451+1506). The Italian navigator who, under the Spanish King’s service, reached the Americas and proved that Earth is round. With his ships Santa Maria, La Pinta e La Niña, Columbus sailed across the Atlantic Ocean, believing that He had reached India.


The illustration shows three caravels on the sea and some sea ‘monster’. Due to the lack of knowledge in that time, many people believed that Earth was plan and that in the “cliff” there were sea monsters which could eat the ships. Elizabeth Teixeira’s illustration makes reference to this thought.

“In the middle of Marcos’s road there was enemy and desert”. Marco Polo (*1254+1324), Italian navigator who traveled throught the Mongol empire in the XIII century. The voyage lasted 24 years.

“And there was a long way in Alberto’s road”. Alberto Santos Dumont was born on July 20, 1873, in Santa Luzia do Rio das Velhas and died in 1932 in Guarujá. A Julio Verne reader, He showed interest in the making of balloons. On September 18, 1898, his first dirigible reached to the sky. On November, 1906, he achieved great success with his “14-Bis”, establishing the first flying record of the world. In 1931, the Academia Brasileira de Letras elected him to sit on chair number 38, which had been empty since the death of Graça Aranha. He did not accept and in his place the writer Celso Vieira was chosen. Santos Dumont, in Brazil and in many countries, is considered the father of aviation.

In the illustration we have the character inside the balloon nest; the nest is small giving the impression of disproportion between Alberto and the nest. The illustrator was faithful to Balão Brasil and its history. On July 4, 1898, in Jardim da Aclimatação, in Paris, goes up to the Sky the Balão Brasil with a green and yellow flag. This was the first balloon created by Santos Dumont, revolutionizing the construction of round balloons, as the dimension of his balloon was smaller than those fabricated at the time. According to comments on the website Cabungu, it can be understood the relevance of this day in Dumont’s life.

His aviator life, from this moment, will be a succession of victories against all kinds of obstacles: disbelief, indifference, inertia, from those who did not believe that man could conquer the space.

“Brésil” was a symbol, a little representation of his future victories. All of them would be represented by a spirit who was responsible for creating his first balloon: boldness, self-assurance, persistence, courage and special intuition to aeronautics problems.

Back to the illustration description, in the balloon can be read the word Brasil, and seen the green and yellow flag. Alberto is in the sky, flying in his balloon, looking down to the earth. In the image, it can be seen, on the left, the Eiffel Tower, symbol of Paris. The time/space notion is kept by the illustrator, since it is noted that Paris is not full of architectural building, in the surroundings of Paris there are farms and some animals. Almost no birds go together with Alberto. Santos Dumont’s balloons paved the way to his 14 Bis as well as to spacecrafts.

“It was stick. It was stone. It was the end of the way”. Once more the shadows of the three characters are together, Christopher Columbus, Marco Polo and Santos Dumont. Three elements symbolize the heroes: sea monster, mongol ‘enemy’ and a white bird.

 “Stick, log, board, wood?... – It make ship navigate! Firm Mast, white sail, log now is caravel so that distance gets shorter. Being courageous, on the waves, Cris went across the sea.” Ana Maria Machado brings into the scene the character Cris, Christopher Columbus. In the illustration, in double page, one to each height. On the right side the first inhabitants on land, much better, on sand. Their garment  are typical of inhabitants in tropical areas in that time, ‘tanga’, painted body, carrying a harpoon and with a curious expression on their faces. On the other side, the Europeans with their typical clothes, nothing adequate to hot weather. They are in a rowing boat, the leader, probably Cris, in the front and on his side, the flag…… In the same way that the natives, the navigators also look in admiration at the beach, pointing to some place. Two cultures, two worlds, opened ways.

“There is no distance to birds and to those who are bold. Alberto had in his mind that he would fly. He flew, controlled his flight. That was the airplane! And since the, long distance was no more a hindrance.” Alberto Santos Dumont was an explorer. He also transformed obstacle into way, paving the way to many other Explorers as well as to many other people. Distance is no more a problem, Alberto idealized and found a solution.

The illustration brings the 14 Bis flying over Paris and some people with antique garments, admiring Dumont’s invention.  Even a photographer was present to register the moment which was a landmark to human beings, the crucial moment for aviation.  On board of 14 Bis, Santos Dumont became the first man to fly in a machine heavier than air.  The historical Flight had  sixty meters and reached the height of two meters.  That realism of two meters can also be observed in the illustration, he is flying low.  

“In the middle of Marcos’s road there was a better map. In the middle of Cris’s road there was a bigger world. And by Alberto’s flight, this world got smaller”. Three personalities who made the difference in the world. Camel, boat, airplane, each one made their option. In the illustration there is a new character, the boy of the cover.  He is sat down, relaxed, under a tree, shoe on his side.  What children, who when playing, do not forget their shoes?  He plays with the globe map, between the continents, lines which give the orientation, boat or plane, depends on the imagination.  

“In the middle of my way there are things which I don’t like. Fence, wall... In the middle of your way there are a lot of stones too. Stone? Or egg? End of the way? New way?”. The boy shows the reader his agony. The freedom of playing is imagination, the action of imagining, in seconds the boy goes accros the seas, get to know new places. But in his way there is fence, wall, gate, reminding him that reality is limited, different from imagination. The illustration reveals his agony, the gate is high and its shadow covers the whole page.

He goes through the gate, goes out of the ‘forest’ and arrives in the town cidade which is full of new cultures. “Door, bridge, tunnel, road, map, flight, navigation. Who told you that the end of the road is not the beginning of enormous things?” The boy’s look changes when he sees so many things in town: Christopher’s Grocery, kyte seller, the boy on a bike taking clothes to Shanghai Cleaner, a boy taking his dog to walk, Alighieri’s Bookstore, Travel Agency, houses, building, cars, trucks, airplanes, ships and much more. A small piece of the world in the town.

“Alley which becomes an avenue. Wall which falls to the brother. Hope breaking the prison open”. Wall which falls to the brother, would the author making a reference to the Berlin Wall? Who knows! Hope breaking the prison open, but what prison? Fear, agony, loneliness, violence? It really does not matter, because hope can be reborn.

The character walks unto the girl from the cover and other children. “It is a promise of life in my heart”. And is there more promise of life than in children’s souls? Aren’t they the reborn hope? Children are the symbol of innocence, childhood is spontaneity, simplicity. The idea of childhood is a constant theme in religious teachings: “Verily I say unto you, if thy do not change and become like little children, you no way thy will enter in the Kingdom of Heaven.”  Or “Verily I say unto you, Whosoever shall not receive the kingdom of God as a little child shall in no wise enter therein.” . Lots of angels are represented by children. They are in the rain, which fall gently, indicating peace, fertility, new cycle. According to Chevalier  rain “is universally taken as the symbol of heavenly influences received by earth. It is an evident fact that it is a soil fertilizer agent. (...) Whatever come from heaven to earth is also to fertilize spirit, light, and spiritual influences”.

Children and the sky, they are the pure in their heart to receive ‘from rain’ the spiritual light. It is the promise of life in our heart.

To sum up, we ask: How 8 to 9 year old children read this book? The book brings in its cover, a seal suggesting the reading to 8- to 9-year-old children alone, and to 5-year-old children with a tutor. We cannont forget to mention that the understanding of a work such as a book depends on the reader. In case, the reader does not know about the works and personalities mentioned by Ana Maria Machado, its reading will be superficial. To have knowledge of them is necessary, since the narrative demands from the reader a great cultural and literary knowledge. Not all characters in the story are known by children in primary school. Thus, the book Abrindo Caminho, to be understood by its target public, needs a mediator with a good cultural knowledge so that children can understand the background of History in the story.


Claudimeiri Nara Cordeiro Kollros, Brazil

IBBY World Congress, Copenhagen, Denmark September 2008

Basic Biographical

BAKHTIN, Mikail.  Estética da criação verbal.  São Paulo, Martins Fontes,1997.
Bíblia Sagrada.  São Paulo, Ave-Maria, 2000
CHEVALIER, Jean. Et GHEERBRANT, Alain.  Dicionário de símbolos.  Rio de Janeiro, José Olympio, 1999.
GOFF, Jacques Le.  O imaginário medieval.  Lisboa, Estampa, 1994.
KRISTEVA, Julia.  La révolution du langage poétique, Seuil, 1974.
MACHADO, Ana Maria.  Abrindo caminho. Ilustração.  TEIXEIRA, Elisabeth.  São Paulo, Ática, 2003.

Web site

Claudimeiri Nara Cordeiro Kollross
Doctorate student - São Paulo University (USP) /Brazil