Friday, September 26, 2014

Classic Middle Grade Review: Harriet The Spy by Louise Fitzhugh

Harriet the Spy readalong

September's pick for the Classic Middle Grade Read along with the Midnight Garden was Harriet The Spy by Louise Fitzhugh.  You can follow along or join in the discussion at or #tmgreadalong.  

I can't remember exactly how old I was when I first read Harriet The Spy.  I recall liking how Harriet spoke her mind, even to her parents, and her observations seemed very amusing to me at the time. I'm happy this was chosen this month, I find that I learn so much on these re-reads, well even the new to me books that have been chosen too.  It's always fun to look at things through an older or even parental set of eyes.  

There is so much that I love about Harriet The Spy.  I loved how Harriet was always questioning everything she see's, with her insatiable curiosity and need to catalog her observations in her beloved notebook.  Harriet struck me as such a creature of routine, for lunch she has her tomato sandwiches, at three forty she has milk and cake, and each day she routinely "spies" on her neighbors the Dei Santi family, Robinson's, Harrison Wither and Mrs. Plumber recording her observations as she went along.  It's funny, but I thought of this kind of like Harriet was watching a soap opera, watching these peoples lives seem to fill the gap for what was missing in her home life. 

Harriet's parents during the early chapters weren't involved in her life.  Her mom was off playing bridge or attending a party with her father.  Disciplining was even left to Harriet's nurse Ole'Golly, even going so far as to call her to wash out Harriet's mouth with soap. Her parents bothered me to no end.  I was so happy that they finally took a more active role, especially in the chapter where Harriet's mom is sitting with her trying to figure out what she is so upset about.  

I so loved the character of Ole Golly, she was so wonderful and you can see how much Harriet loved her, especially when she no longer worked for the family. Harriet says "..even if she didn't say anything, you were aware of her.  She made herself felt in the House."  Throughout the story, Ole' Golly's presence is always there in the pearls of wisdom that she shares with Harriet.  Be it the quotes from Aesop, Dostoevsky or Henry James.  Harriet always takes these things in and reflects on them in some way.  Like following a disagreement with her parents Harriet questions "Why don't they say what they feel?  Ole'Golly always said "Always say exactly what you feel people are hurt more by misunderstanding than anything else."   It's even Ole Golly who gives Harriet her first notebook when she was eight years old, telling her that if she wanted to be a good writer then she needs to write everything down.  I'm sure Ole' Golly never anticipated how Harriet would take these words.  Harriet is brutally honest in the observations that she writes down, and she only does this because she believes that her notebook will never be read, that it is secret.  What she writes can be seen as mean but I see her writing as a way for her to question and process the things that she see's.  Harriet asks some wonderful questions, "What's it like to have brothers or sisters?, "What's too old to have fun?" 

I also loved how creative Harriet was in the games that she invented.  "The Town," where she sets up a whole list of people in a fictional town, and I especially loved how she would sit in the luncheonette with her back to people having conversations and she would listen in until just from listening to them speak, she could figure out what she thought they looked like.  Isn't this what writers do?  Use their observational skills and weave things into a story?  Such a wonderful people watcher.  

Harriet the Spy is defiantly one of those books that I will be adding to my favorites list and I can see myself reading again someday, maybe even with a flashlight under the covers to feel more nostalgic.  

Favorite line:  "I wonder if when you dream about somebody they dream about you."     

After reading the book, I explored some online hoping to find out more information about the author and her inspiration for Harriet.  I found this fascinating piece featured in The Horn Book  On Spies and Purple Socks and Such.   


Anonymous said...

I have never read this novel before but heard lots about it. It seems like a children film I would love to watch then I would love to read it.

Anonymous said...

Have loved Harriet the Spy for many (many) years now and I think one of the reasons was the she was so always just herself no matter what. Loved that article! Shows the power of books and book recommendations...sometimes without even knowing the impact!

Brenda said...

I have not seen the film, but really enjoyed the book.

Brenda said...

Yes, I love how she stays true to who she is too. Such fun re-reading these classics.