CHILDREN’S LITERATURE

The Perils of Re-reading a Book You Loved as a Child

You might find that you don’t love it after all

My hoodie, donut festooned Vans, Levi Jeans, a notebook, and pen. This comprises my spy outfit
My hoodie, donut festooned Vans, Levi Jeans, a notebook, and pen. This comprises my spy outfit
Spy outfit for a grown woman

Harriet’s behavior and attitudes

While Harriet does, at times, cling to rudimentary social graces, her main downfall is that she is pathologically honest.

FRANCA DEI SANTI HAS ONE OF THE DUMBEST FACES YOU COULD EVER HOPE TO SEE.…SHE IS ABOUT OUR AGE AND GOES TO A PUBLIC SCHOOL WHERE SHE IS ALWAYS FLUNKING THINGS LIKE SHOP THAT WE DON’T HAVE HERE. ANYWAY IT WON’T DO FRANCA A BIT OF GOOD BECAUSE SHE WON’T EVER LEARN ANYTHING ANYWAY.

To make all this ugliness a bit more shocking, Harriet is allowed to publish it in the school newspaper of which she has just been named editor because she is so smart, and the child psychiatrist her parents consulted with recommended it.

SOMETIMES I CAN’T STAND SPORT. WITH HIS WORRYING ALL THE TIME AND FUSSING OVER HIS FATHER, SOMETIMES HE IS LIKE A LITTLE OLD WOMAN.

Not only does Harriet disparage a good friend, she throws in a touch of misogyny directed at that paragon of annoyance “the little old woman.”

Authorial intrusion and other problems

One of the problems with the story is that there are no likable characters. You don’t root for Harriet because she is good; you root for her because she is a tad less hateful than some of the other characters. (Note: some, not all).

IF MARION HAWTHORNE DOESN’T WATCH OUT SHE’S GOING TO GROW UP INTO A LADY HITLER.

are, in fact, Louise Fitzhugh speaking directly the reader, and the authorial intrusion detracts from an already problematic text.

So is there anything left to like?

When I finished re-reading Harriet the Spy, I had still enjoyed the suspense, if not the conclusion — was Harriet going to get in trouble for being mean? No — as well as the fact that Harriet had what seemed to me (then and now) astonishing freedom. She didn’t have to make her breakfast or fix her own lunch, she had no chores, she could wander about the neighborhood at will, and she never had to think about anyone but Harriet M. Welsch.

Harriet knew who she was and was true to herself.

In 1969 when I first read Harriet the Spy, the only other heroine I had encountered who had the same self assurance was Nancy Drew. Another thing I liked:

Harriet hardly had to answer to anyone.

Harriet gets to do as she pleases. When I was nine, I had dreams that one day my life would be like that. Now that I am fifty-nine, I know that life doesn’t work that way, no matter how young or how old you are, but it was a nice fantasy while it lasted.

Harriet could go where she pleased and have adventures of her choosing.

Harriet has a spy route that her parents are completely unaware of. She is allowed to feign illness and stay at home whenever things at school get difficult. At no point does Harriet have to face the consequences of her misbehaviors.

Looking toward the future

The character of Harriet is, in ways, a harbinger of things to come.

Crocheter on a mission to make the world a better place — one stitch at a time. Twitter: @crochetbug. Crochet blog: https://www.crochetbug.com

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