Thursday, September 30, 2010

Childhood Challenge: HARRIET THE SPY

This month, I chose to re-read Harriet the Spy by Louise Fitzhugh.


From My Memory
I read Harriet the Spy when I was in the fifth grade. I adored it. It inspired me to write more frequently in my journal, made me want to become a spy, and left me wishing I could live in a big city. If I had to provide a summary of what I remember about the book, my summary would be very short: Harriet goes around her city neighborhood, observing the lives around her and writing all those details in her notebook.

After Re-Reading
Given the summary I just provided, you may not be surprised to find that I was pleasantly surprised at how much more there was to the book than I had remembered. Harriet the Spy has much more depth than being a story about a girl who writes everything down--Harriet writes down observations that are, quite frankly, rude. Yet honest. Painfully honest. Harriet started the book as a girl worried about her own life, not caring to think too much about how her observations might teach her about the people she's surrounded by: a nanny who has a complicated relationship with her mother, a best friend who has to be the adult for his often-drunk dad, a best friend who is misunderstood by everyone (including her family), and parents who don't know what to do with a child. As the book progresses, Harriet goes through a painful growing process when her nanny leaves and her friends discover her journals--the same journals that have all those frighteningly honest observations in them.

Through Harriet's turmoil, the thing that impresses me most is Louise Fitzhugh's ability to write such an honest character. Harriet doesn't let go of her ego-centric tendencies very easily (as most 11-year-olds don't), she throws tantrums, she behaves badly, she refuses to apologize... But she is lovable because readers can recognize a bit of themselves in her. Harriet is the definition of an honest character. Even while she's behaving badly, though, Harriet still writes observations in her journal that are so simplistic, they are poignant, like this entry, which was written after her nanny (Ole Golly) left:

I FEEL ALL THE SAME THINGS WHEN I DO THINGS ALONE AS WHEN OLE GOLLY WAS HERE. THE BATH FEELS HOT, THE BED FEELS SOFT, BUT I FEEL THERE'S A FUNNY LITTLE HOLE IN ME THAT WASN'T THERE BEFOER, LIKE A SPLINTER IN YOUR FINGER, BUT THIS IS SOMEWHERE ABOVE MY STOMACH. (p. 132)
(Harriet's journal entries are written in all-caps in the book.) As I read the book, I found myself thinking it would be a perfect book for a young girl to read with an adult. It made me wish my niece lived a little closer to me so I could share it with her (but at least I know she can share the book with my sister). Re-reading Harriet the Spy was possibly my favorite part of September.

Happy re-reading and re-creating your childhood joie de lire!

4 comments:

mtmurat said...

Beautiful commentary. This has always been one of my "comfort books"--like a comfort food without the calories. I am a 5th grade teacher now and Harriet remains one of my favorites.

Jessie Sams said...

Thank you! I love your metaphor of a comfort book being a comfort food without the calories. You put into one sentence exactly how I feel about Harriet the Spy and other favorites of mine.

Brigid Daull Brockway said...

Love this! Thanks so much for the reflection!

Jessie Sams said...

Thank you, Brigid!

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