Even after finishing, I honestly still can’t remember if I read Harriet the Spy (1964) by Louise Fitzhugh when I was a kid or not. There were things that seemed slightly familiar but I don’t think I actually did read it. I think it’s one of those books that I always saw on the library shelves but never chose. It’s at number 17 on the 100 Best Chapter Books list though, which would imply that lots of readers remember it fondly.
What it’s about: Harriet is a sixth grader who has an unnatural curiosity that she harnesses in an unorthodox manner — to spy on people in her neighborhood, usually by looking through their windows but sometimes even sneaking into people’s homes. She also observes her fellow students at school and writes less-than-kind things about them and their families in her journal. When the other kids get their hands on her book and see what she has to say about them, they decide to get their own revenge on her.
Age level: Grades 3-6
Best aspect: The adults in the story use common sense when dealing with Harriet and her antics. Harriet’s nanny, Ole Golly, knows exactly how to handle her, giving her responsibilities she can handle and suggestions for improvement. She also has a very thoughtful therapist who realizes that behind her compulsions lies a very bright child. The adults at her school choose to help her instead of punishing her. Even Harriet’s parents who are distant and relatively absent at the beginning of the story come together and try to support her when she gets in trouble.
Worst aspect: In my opinion, Harriet appears to be on the autism spectrum. But because this story was written in a time before highly functional kids got any sort of diagnosis, she is just portrayed a quirky kid who has problems with appropriate social interactions, issues with impulse control and who has repetitive behaviors and routines. I don’t have a problem with this at all, rather, I would love to see this book rewritten but in a modern context (maybe even a social media story) and have Harriet actually diagnosed with Asperger’s/autism. I think it would make more sense as to why she doesn’t actually change her behavior but only slightly modifies it to “fit in” better. It would make more sense as to why Ole Golly tells her that she should lie about the mean things she thinks instead of telling her to be nice. And it would be much clearer why she had to compulsively write and write to feel better.
This was a good story but not a new favorite. It was a bit dated and kind of strange. I’m not sure that I would put it in front of Z either. Anyway, next up is Frindle, which will be my first Andrew Clements book. There are a couple of kids in Z’s class that are going through all of his books one after the other so I’m excited to see what is grabbing their interest.
Schedule – June through September
note: dates are not necessarily set in stone – posts may go up a day or two before or after
June 15 – #38 Frindle by Andrew Clements (1996)
June 30 – #58 Swallows and Amazons by Arthur Ransome (1930) — 1st in a series
July 15 – #100 Love that Dog by Sharon Creech (2001)
July 31 – #42 Gone-Away Lake by Elizabeth Enright (1957)
August 15 – #19 Little House in the Big Woods by Laura Ingalls Wilder (1932)
August 30 – #18 The Book of Three by Lloyd Alexander (1964)
September 15 – #29 The Penderwicks by Jeanne Birdsall (2005)
September 30 – #30 Matilda by Roald Dahl (1988)