Harriet the Spy by Louise Fitzhugh

(Suggested reading level: Grades 3-5)

To be honest, I don’t know if I read this as a child or not. I don’t remember it, but that doesn’t really mean anything one way or the other. My memory truly is terrible. So when I sat down to read this with Amber (10), I knew the basic plot, but that’s about it.

Harriet is an eleven year old girl whose ambition is to be a writer, but in the meantime she’s a spy. She has a spy route staked out and she regularly writes down everything, good and bad, about the people around her, neighbors and friends. She keeps all her information in her precious notebook. She is encouraged by her nanny, Ole Golly.

Ole Golly says there is as many ways to live as there are people on the earth and I shouldn’t go round with blinders but should see every way I can. (pg. 32)

Of course when Harriet drops her notebook, her classmates find it and read every awful thing she has written about them. She is misunderstood and ostracized. In the meantime, Ole Golly, the one person Harriet could have confided in has quit to get married. But Harriet perseveres.

I can see why kids love this book. There is so much to relate to: having your friends mad at you, feeling like the adults in your life don’t understand, having to do stupid school assignments. For the record, Amber gave it a 9 1/2 out of 10.  She really enjoyed it, even though some of the references and slang are dated. I wouldn’t be surprised if she started keep her own notebook. She also stated that the lesson Harriet learned was to never, ever, ever let anyone else see her notebook.

On the other hand there were a couple of things that bothered me. Harriet is intelligent, curious, self-reliant kid, but she enters a stranger’s house and hides in the dumbwaiter to spy and there really aren’t any consequences. A stranger’s house. I know, it was a different time, but still.

Harriet’s parents are very busy, her father with his career, her mother with parties, appointments and the like. They barely seem to know their daughter and are at a loss as to how to deal with her now that Ole Golly is gone. Also, some of the things they talk about in front of her are just not appropriate, in my opinion.

Jack Peters was stoned out of his mind and falling off the bar stool and there was Milly Andrews just smiling at him like an idiot. (pg. 289)

These are Harriet’s classmates’ parents, and Harriet then writes the same tidbit in the school paper, and everybody’s fine with that.

And then there’s Janie, one of Harriet’s best friends. Janie has some issues.

She had a chemistry set and planned one day to blow up the world.(pg. 29)

And Janie really does want to blow people up. She’s also sure that she has an untraceable poison, so would use that to kill someone instead of slitting their throat. Once again, I can see why kids relate. What kid doesn’t dream of being able to blow up the school? But even Harriet writes that Janie gets stranger every year.

Fitzhugh writes believable, three-dimensional characters.The kids have true worries, feelings, concerns, responsibilities. She portrays them honestly, as complicated people, not simply stereotypes, which is one of the reasons this is such a classic.

And I wish I could have milk and cake every afternoon.

First published in 1964
Harriet the Spy #1
300 pages

Challenges: 100+, A to Z, Shelf Discovery

I purchased our copy and the above is my honest opinion. I am an Amazon associate.