Harriet the Spy

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Harriet the Spy
Harriet the Spy (book) cover.jpg
Author Louise Fitzhugh
Country United States
Genre Children's, Spy novel
Published 1964 (Harper & Row)
Media type Print (Hardback & Paperback)
Pages 298 pp
ISBN 978-0-440-41679-1
Followed by The Long Secret

Harriet the Spy is a children's novel written and illustrated by Louise Fitzhugh that was published in 1964. It has been called "a milestone in children’s literature" and a "classic."[1][2]

Plot summary[edit]

Eleven-year-old Harriet M. Welsch is an aspiring writer who lives in New York City's Upper East Side. A precocious and enthusiastic girl, Harriet enjoys writing and aspires to become a spy. Encouraged by her nanny, Ole Golly, Harriet carefully observes others and writes her thoughts down in a notebook as practice for her future career, which she dedicates her life to. She follows an afternoon "spy route", during which she observes her classmates, friends, and people who reside in her neighborhood. Her best friends are Sport, a serious boy who lives with his father, and Janie, an aspiring scientist.

Harriet enjoys having structure in her life. For example, she regularly eats tomato sandwiches and adamantly refuses to consume other types of sandwiches. However, Harriet's routine life is abruptly changed when her parents attend a party. Ole Golly and her suitor, Mr. Waldenstein, take Harriet out for dessert and a movie. When they return home, they discover that the Welsches have returned early to an empty house. When Mrs. Welsch attempts to fire Ole Golly, Mr. Waldenstein discloses to the Welsches that he proposed to Ole Golly that evening, and she has accepted. In an astonishing about-face, Mrs. Welsch exclaims, "You can't leave, what will we do without you?!" Ole Golly replies that she had planned to leave soon because she believes Harriet is old enough to care for herself. Harriet is crushed by the loss of her nanny, to whom she was very close.

Later at school, during a game of tag, Harriet loses her notebook. Her classmates find it and are appalled at her brutally honest documentation of her opinions of them. For example, in her notebook she compares Sport to a "little old woman" for his continual worrying about his father. The students form a "Spy Catcher Club" in which they think up ways to make Harriet's life miserable, such as stealing her lunch, passing nasty notes about her in class, and spilling ink on her.

Harriet regularly spies on them through a back fence and concocts vengeful ways to punish them. She realizes the consequences of the mean things she wrote, and though she is hurt and lonely, she still thinks up special punishments for each member of the club. After getting into trouble for carrying out some of her plans, Harriet tries to resume her friendship with Sport and Janie as if nothing had ever happened, but they both reject her. Harriet spends all her time in class writing in her notebook as a part of her plan to punish the Spy Catcher Club. As a result of never doing her schoolwork, her grades suffer. This leads Harriet's parents to confiscate her notebook. Hearing of Harriet's troubles, Ole Golly writes to her, telling her that if anyone ever reads her notebook, "you have to do two things, and you don't like either one of them. 1: You have to apologize. 2: You have to lie. Otherwise you are going to lose a friend."

Meanwhile, dissent is rippling through the Spy Catcher Club. Marion, the teacher's pet, and her best friend Rachel are calling all the shots, and Sport and Janie are tired of being bossed around. When they quit the club, most of their classmates do the same.

Harriet's parents speak with her teacher and the headmistress, and Harriet is appointed editor of the class newspaper. The newspaper—featuring stories about the people on Harriet's spy route and the students' parents—becomes an instant success. Harriet also uses the paper to make amends by printing a retraction and is forgiven.

Reception[edit]

The book appeared on a 1964 list of "The Year's Best Juveniles" in The New York Times Book Review.[3] One 1965 reviewer called the book "a brilliantly written, unsparing realistic story, a superb portrait of an extraordinary child."[4] Another reviewer found that it "captures the feelings, thoughts and situations of a modern city child with remarkable clarity and dimension."[5] Nevertheless, at least one reviewer in 1965 felt that the book dealt with "disagreeable people and situations."[6] Although it was not chosen as one of the American Library Association (ALA) Notable Books for Children for 1964, years later it was included in a retrospective 1960-1964 ALA Notable Books List.[1]

It won a Sequoyah Book Award in 1967.[7] The paperback version was selected as one of the "Best in the Field" published during the previous 16 months in a 1968 New York Times article.[8] In 1995, Paramount Pictures and Nickelodeon Movies claimed that 2.5 million copies of the book had been sold;[9] however, the book did not appear on a 2001 Publishers Weekly list of "hardcovers that have sold 750,000 copies and paperbacks that have topped the one million copy mark."[10]

Whitney Matheson wrote on the USA Today site in 2002 that Harriet "attracts dedicated, lifelong supporters."[11] Anita Silvey in 2004 selected it as one of the 100 best books for children.[12] In 2005, the ex-CIA officer Lindsay Moran cited the Harriet the Spy series of books as an inspiration for her career.[13] It was included in a 2009 list of "Children’s Classics" by The Horn Book Magazine.[14]

In a 2012 online poll of "Top 100 Children's Novels" by School Library Journal, the book ranked 17th.[15] The book was 12th on a 2012 list of "The 50 Best Books for Kids" in Time Out New York Kids.[16]

Despite its popularity, the book has been banned from some schools and libraries "because it was said to set a bad example for children."[2][17][18] Along with Are You There God?, Blubber, and Where the Sidewalk Ends, the book was challenged at a famous 1983 school board meeting in Xenia, Ohio.[19] Proponents of the Xenia ban stated that the book "teaches children to lie, spy, back-talk and curse," but the board voted to keep the books in the school libraries.[19][20]

Although the book does not state the title character's sexuality, lesbians have identified with Harriet due to her being an "outsider" and due to her dressing like a boy.[2] For example, Harriet had high-top sneakers which girls rarely wore in the 1960s.[21] Furthermore, Fitzhugh was known to be a lesbian, and the "Boy with the Purple Socks" character in the book may have been gay as the color purple is associated with the gay community.[21]

Selected translations[edit]

  • Harriet - Spionage aller Art (German, 1968)
  • Harriet l'Espionne (French, 1980)
  • הרייט המרגלת (Hebrew, 1984, ISBN 9650302190)
  • Professione? Spia! (Italian, 1989, ISBN 8804322802)
  • スパイになりたいハリエットのいじめ解決法 / Supai ni naritai harietto no ijime kaiketsuhō (Japanese, 1995, ISBN 4061947303)
  • A Espiã (Portuguese, 1999, ISBN 8571646414)

Sequels[edit]

Fitzhugh wrote two sequels to the book: The Long Secret (1965) and Sport (1979, published posthumously).[22][23] Both books received mixed reviews.[24][25] In 2002, a sequel Harriet Spies Again appeared; written by Helen Ericson, it also received mixed reviews.[26][27][28] Another sequel, Harriet the Spy, Double Agent by Maya Gold, was published in 2005;[29][30] one review of that book stated "there's not much to interest readers here."[31]

Adaptations[edit]

Harriet the Spy was made into a 1996 film of the same name. It starred Michelle Trachtenberg and was the first film to be produced by Nickelodeon's feature film division.

In March 2010, Disney Channel aired a version of the story, Harriet the Spy: Blog Wars. This starred Wizards of Waverly Place cast member Jennifer Stone as Harriet, Alexander Conti from Cheaper by the Dozen 2 as Harriet's friend Sport, and Degrassi: The Next Generation's Melinda Shankar as Janie. In this film Harriet competes against Marion Hawthorne to see who has a better blog.

References[edit]

  1. ^ a b Elleman, Barbara (1987). "Current Trends in Literature for Children". Library Trends (Graduate School of Library and Information Science, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign) 35 (3): 413–426. Retrieved March 17, 2013. 
  2. ^ a b c Grant, Neva (March 3, 2008). "Unapologetically Harriet, the Misfit Spy". Morning Edition. NPR. Retrieved March 23, 2013. 
  3. ^ "The Year's Best Juveniles". The New York Times Book Review. December 6, 1964. p. 52. 
  4. ^ Goodwin, Polly (January 24, 1965). "The Junior Bookshelf". Chicago Tribune. p. B7. 
  5. ^ Taylor, Mark (February 21, 1965). "An Excellent Trio for Children". Los Angeles Times. p. B7. 
  6. ^ Helson, Ravenna (1976). "Change, Tradition, and Critical Styles in the Contemporary World of Children's Books". Children's Literature 5 (1): 22–39. doi:10.1353/chl.0.0757. 
  7. ^ "Children's Sequoyah Winners". Oklahoma Library Association. Retrieved March 16, 2013. 
  8. ^ Woods, George; O'Connor, Margaret F. (February 25, 1968). "Best in the Field: For Children". New York Times Book Review: Paperbacks. Section 7, Part 2, pages 18 & 20. 
  9. ^ Paramount Pictures and Nickelodeon Movies (December 8, 1995). "Michelle Trachtenberg is Harriet; Rosie O'Donnell Her Mentor in the Action-Comedy "Harriet The Spy" (press release)". PR Newswire Association LLC. Retrieved March 22, 2013. 
  10. ^ Roback, Diane; Britton, Jason, eds. (December 17, 2001). "All-Time Bestselling Children's Books". Publishers Weekly 248 (51). Retrieved March 22, 2013. 
  11. ^ Matheson, Whitney (June 27, 2002). "Still Spying After All These Years". USA Today. Retrieved March 22, 2013. 
  12. ^ Silvey, Anita (2004). 100 Best Books for Children. Boston: Houghton Mifflin. ISBN 0618278893. 
  13. ^ Ensor, David (January 12, 2005). "Moran: 'It's a dirty business'". CNN. Retrieved March 16, 2013. 
  14. ^ Burns, Mary M. (2009). "Children’s Classics: A Booklist for Parents". The Horn Book. Retrieved March 20, 2013. 
  15. ^ Bird, Elizabeth (June 12, 2012). "Top 100 Children’s Novels #17: Harriet the Spy by Louise Fitzhugh". School Library Journal "A Fuse #8 Production" blog. Retrieved March 16, 2013. 
  16. ^ Bird, Elizabeth (March 1, 2012). "The 50 Best Books for Kids". Time Out New York Kids. Retrieved March 22, 2013. 
  17. ^ Brunner, Borgna (2007). "Banned Books From Harriet the Spy to The Catcher in the Rye". Information Please. Pearson Education. Retrieved March 23, 2013. 
  18. ^ Driscoll, Molly; O'Carroll, Eoin. "30 Banned Books That May Surprise You: 1. 'Harriet the Spy,' by Louise Fitzhugh". Christian Science Monitor. Retrieved March 16, 2013. 
  19. ^ a b Denger, Laurie (October 25, 1993). "Issues in Xenia Schools Boiling for Decade". Dayton Daily News. 
  20. ^ Eichhorn-Hicks, Meghara (March 5, 2009). "Banning Books: Keeping Our Children Safe from the Perils of Free Thinking". Minneapolis Examiner. 
  21. ^ a b Horning, Kathleen T. (January–February 2005). "On Spies and Purple Socks and Such". Horn Book Magazine 81 (1): 49–55. Retrieved March 23, 2013. 
  22. ^ Fitzhugh, Louise (1965). The Long Secret. New York: Harper & Row. ISBN 0060214104. 
  23. ^ Fitzhugh, Louise (1979). Sport. New York: Delacorte Press. ISBN 0440078865. 
  24. ^ Sutton, Roger (July–August 2001). "Bring Out Your Dead". Horn Book Magazine 77 (4). Retrieved March 17, 2013. 
  25. ^ Schmitz, Terri (September–October 2001). "Characters You Can Count On". Horn Book Magazine 77 (5): 557–567. 
  26. ^ Ericson, Helen (2002). Harriet Spies Again. New York: Delacorte Press. ISBN 0385327862. 
  27. ^ "Harriet Spies Again by Helen Ericson (review)". Kirkus Reviews. March 1, 2002. Retrieved March 17, 2013. 
  28. ^ Weisman, Kay (December 1, 2002). "Reflections on Fiction Spin-offs: Should Harriet Spy Again?". Booklist 99 (7): 667. 
  29. ^ Gold, Maya (2005). Harriet the Spy, Double Agent. New York: Delacorte Press. ISBN 0385327870. 
  30. ^ Carton, Debbie (September 1, 2005). "Gold, Maya. Harriet the Spy, Double Agent (book review)". Booklist 102 (1): 132. 
  31. ^ Le, Amanda Conover (January 2006). "Harriet the Spy, Double Agent (review)". School Library Journal 52 (1). Retrieved March 22, 2013. 

Further reading[edit]

  • Molson, Francis J. (1974). "Another Look at Harriet the Spy". Elementary English 51 (7): 963–970. doi:10.1353/chq.1991.0016. 
  • Wolf, Virginia L. (1975). "Harriet the Spy". Children's Literature 4 (1): 120–126. doi:10.1353/chl.0.0700. 
  • Paul, Lissa (1989). "The Feminist Writer as Heroine in Harriet the Spy". The Lion and the Unicorn 13 (1): 67–73. doi:10.1353/uni.0.0433. 
  • John, Judith Gero (1991). "The Legacy of Peter Pan and Wendy: Images of Lost Innocence and Social Consequences in Harriet the Spy". Children's Literature Association Quarterly 1991 Proceedings: 168–173. doi:10.1353/chq.1991.0016. 
  • Bernstein, Robin (2000–2001). "‘Too Realistic’ and ‘Too Distorted’: The Attack on Louise Fitzhugh’s Harriet the Spy and the Gaze of the Queer Child". Critical Matrix: The Princeton Journal of Women, Gender, and Culture 12 (1–2): Critical Matrix: The Princeton Journal of Women, Gender, and Culture. 
  • Bernstein, Robin (2011). "The Queerness of Harriet the Spy". In Abate, Michelle Ann; Kidd, Kenneth B. Over the Rainbow: Queer Children's and Young Adult Literature. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan. pp. 111–120. ISBN 978-0-472-07146-3. 

External links[edit]