Harriet the Spy, by Louise Fitzhugh (1964, 1992)

Contemporary Fiction (in its day, folks!)
Ages 9-13
Harriet the Spy, by Louise FitzhughHere’s a children’s novel that completely got past me both when I was a child and when I worked as a children’s librarian. (It happens.) I have been meaning to read it for years, and finally picked it up. Awesome book that is older than I am, and clearly a game-changer in the world of children’s literature. Harriet M. Welsch is 11 years old, sassy, opinionated and determined to become a writer. To be a writer, her governess Ole Golly tells her, you have to write. So Harriet writes in her notebook, obsessively noting what she observes about her family, her friends, and the Manhattan neighbourhood she calls home. “Sometimes you have to lie. But to yourself you must always tell the truth,” Ole Golly advises her. So truths go into the notebook in spades, in observations that are often cruel as Harriet notes every weakness and trait about the people she meets and sees. But when she drops her notebook unawares, her classmates pick it up and discover what Harriet really thinks. Harriet reacts with outrage – the notebook is PRIVATE! And with anger – who needs them as friends anyway? And with tears. Fitzhugh resists didactism as Harriet figures out how to resolve the dilemma. Sure, she learns a couple of lessons and finds another outlet for her skewering observations about humanity, but this is not a book about learning to be a better person. (Nor, by the way, is it a mystery.) This is about a feisty girl who is observant, selfish, focused, misunderstood and sometimes a bit lonely. Like most of us were at this age, I think! Despite her clearly privileged upbringing (a private school, a cook and a governess), Harriet’s problems remain relevant for today’s readers. An authentic voice, amazing characterization and a clear inspiration for writers like Judy Blume, Paula Danzinger and Nancy Garden.
More discussion and reviews of this novel:http://www.goodreads.com/book/show/232576


About Michelle Mallette
I'm just trying to keep track of the books I've read - what I liked and what isn't worth re-reading. My work as a librarian has included youth services so you'll find a wide range of interests from picture books and teen dystopia to adult sci-fi, road trip novels, and nonfiction. Comments and communication is always welcome.

2 Responses to Harriet the Spy, by Louise Fitzhugh (1964, 1992)

  1. I missed Harriet when I was young, too, but my daughter read her in the ’80s. I really should get around to seeing for myself what she’s about. Thanks for the reminder – and the great review.

  2. Michelle Mallette says:

    She holds up! At least I think so. Do share your thoughts when you’ve read it.

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