Post #23: Harriet the Spy

Harriet the Spy
Louise Fitzhugh
Post number twenty-three is for another book on my required reading list for one of my Grad courses (History of Children's Literature), Harriet the Spy by Louise Fitzhugh.

I started reading this book earlier int he year, but stopped once Harriet's notebook had been discovered by her classmates. This is because I have a hard time finding enjoyment in other people's discomfort, and Harriet spends much of the latter half of the book feeling quite uncomfortable. However, since I had to finish the book for my class, I had to push through regardless of my feelings.

Brief spoiler-ish thoughts follow.

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Sorry in advance if this ends up sounding jumbled and unorganized. I just want to get my thoughts down so that when it comes time to discuss this book in class, I will know what I'm talking about. Harriet the Spy isn't going to be discussed until the end of the semester (and if I'd had the reading list earlier than the day before class starts, I would have read another book – Robinson Crusoe – first), and by the time December rolls around, I most likely won't retain my initial reactions unless I write them down right now.

Harriet's writings are often quite philosophical in nature, which is quite surprising (at least, in terms of the eleven year olds I currently work with). She writes things down that, when read aloud, seem mean and spiteful. But when she's actually writing them, she often doesn't mean them in this way, especially when she's writing about Janie or Sport. Her writings are simply observations about what is going on around her, and I think they help her find her place in the world.

Her classmates' reactions – and subsequent actions – on the other hand, were intentionally vindictive in nature. And while I understand why they reacted like that – Harriet had hurt their feelings, after all – I couldn't help but feel sorry for her, as they stole her lunch and poured ink on her. Especially since she'd just lost Ole Golly as well, and was trying to adjust to that.

(Insert note here about how Ole Golly would have fixed things nearly instantly if she'd been around. The point of this was that Harriet was required to grow up, and this situation allowed her to do that. But MAN were her parents clueless!)

It was depressing to see just how little Harriet's parents knew about her, especially when it came to something as important as her love of writing everything down. It was pretty clear that Ole Golly had done everything (the insertion of Harriet reading all night because no one came in to take her flashlight away was particularly sad), and her parents just didn't realize how much they were missing. Although I will say that the onion scene was pretty cute. :)

I didn't find this book overwhelmingly great. This seems to be a common opinion of mine for much of what I've read for this course thus far (aside from The Secret Garden, which I really enjoyed), and makes me wonder if perhaps that's just the way these "classics" are. I'm reading Robinson Crusoe right now, and it's pretty dense. It is amazing to me to think that, once upon a time, kids the ages of those I work with were reading this as a requirement for school or for pleasure. It certainly wouldn't be my choice today, or any of my students'. I guess it's true that times have definitely changed.

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