Harriet the... Brat

Harriet the Spy - Louise Fitzhugh

SOMETIMES I CAN'T STAND SPORT, WITH HIS WORRYING ALL THE TIME AND FUSSING OVER HIS FATHER, SOMETIMES HE'S LIKE A LITTLE OLD WOMAN. 

-Chapter 10, from Harriet's Spy Notebook

 

Harriet wrote that about one of her best friends. Granted, she never expected him, or anyone else to read it, but still. I can forgive Harriet for what she writes in her notebook, but I can't forgive her bratty behavior.

 

I remember loving this book as a kid and I was excited to read it again. I am doing a paper for graduate school about children's books (ages 9-12) with strong female protagonists. This book comes up often in lists on that subject.

 

I have to say I was disappointed. I don't mind that Harriett doesn't follow all the rules, and I don't expect her to be a perfect little child. But I found her tantrums and acting out very annoying. I did some research on the internet and discovered that this book was often challenged and/or banned back in the 1960's, since "Harriet was a poor role model for children because she exhibited delinquent tendencies" (Harriet the Spy - (childrensbooks.about.com)). I also found her parents cold, distant, and completely oblivious throughout most of the book. When Ole Golly (Harriet's nurse/nanny) got married and left, they were at a loss as to how to raise their own child.

 

If my experience (and those of my friends around my age) is any indication, this book appealed to children everywhere. The librarian I volunteer with even dressed up as Harriet the Spy and carried a notebook around when she was a kid. And she wasn't alone. Kids loved Harriet as a rebel character. They weren't bothered by her bratty behavior; they were inspired by her rebellious streak.

 

In the end, I guess that's what is unique about this book. In a time when female characters in books were pretty, decorous, and obedient, Harriet went against the grain. She was herself, warts and all and she was unapologetic about it. She didn't want to go to dance school; she wanted to be a spy.

 

Recommended to:

Grades 3 - 5, kids who are rebellious or different and want to find a character they can relate to. Then again, in my opinion, there are books with more likable rebel girls out there.