Harriet the Spy by Louise Fitzhugh
First publication: 1964
Reading level: 6.2

An adventurous book that would be enjoyed by 9-11 year old girls and boys.
Winner of the Sequoyah Book Award and the New York Times Outstanding Book Award in 1964.

Harriet is an 11 year old girl who lives in the city with her mother and father, her nanny, and her cook. Her best friend is an 11 year old boy named Sport. Harriet enjoys spying on her neighbors and school mates. All of the details and thoughts are written down in her notebook. Harriet abhors change. She has even eaten the same tomato sandwich every day at school for 5 years. She is a happy and curious girl, interested in what is happening around her, even if she doesn’t understand it yet.

Her world is changing, however. Starting with her nanny, who has been her constant companion and who has raised her, gets married and moves away to Canada. She is exposed to other realities: her best friend takes care of his alcoholic father, cooking and cleaning and worrying about him. Her nanny introduces her to her imbecilic mother, whom she cares for. Finally, all of her friends discover that she has been writing unflattering observations of them. How will she deal with these changes? Will she hide in her bed for days at time? Or will she confront them and grow from the experience?

Personal review:
I downloaded Harriet the Spy onto my Kindle which was a mistake. Isn’t the textile feedback, the art on the cover, and the turning of the pages inherent in becoming a book lover? Looking at the age of the cover and art are part of being introduced to the book. Sadly, this was all missing in the sterile tapping of the Kindle app. I wonder if today’s digital natives bonding to their Ipads as readers?

Initially, I thought the book might be a little young for a tween. The writing is simplistic and the characters are eleven; youngish for a 9 year old. But soon we are introduced to Ole Golly’s simple mother and different way of life. Seeing that others do not have a nanny and a cook, but her nanny not only cares for her, but her child-like mother as well is a heavy experience for an 11 year old. Introduced early is also Sport’s alcoholic dad that he, as another 11 year old, must make dinner plus cook and clean for. Harriet must confront many changes at once: the loss of her nanny, the derision of her schoolmates, and an introduction to consequences for her actions.

When I read this book as a 10ish year old girl, I loved her adventurousness, as I too, enjoyed spying on others. It was also an introduction to what it was like to live in a city. I don’t think I understood about Sport’s dad, or sympathized with what it would be like to lose my nanny, as I had none. It was an interesting read as an adult, to realize how much discomfort Harriet was exposed to and could still remain a child. She’s a slightly older and wiser child, but still mostly innocent to the world, as 11 year olds should be.

For fans of the book, a movie by the same name came out in 1996 by Nickelodeon and in 2010, Disney created a version for tv. (Ms. Fitzhugh created two other books with the characters Mary Ellen and Sport. The Long Secret, about the changing female adolescent body, and Sport. (Wikipedia)

Fitzhugh, L. (1964). Harriet the Spy. New York, NY: Random House. isbn 978-0-440-41679-