One of my all time favorite childhood books is Harriet The Spy by Louise Fitzhugh. Harriet is a precocious 11 year old girl who aspires to be a spy. She wanders around New York City (yeah thinking about that NOW is a little scary, but suspend your disbelief for a moment.) She observes her neighbors and classmates while writing down her notes in her special spy notebook.
Harriet’s regimented existence delighted me. Despite the fact that I didn’t care for tomatoes until my teen years, I suddenly had cravings for tomato sandwiches. And chocolate egg creams. (Not that I knew what they were. I finally had an egg cream when I was 20. It was awful. Why such a thing would exist in a world where milkshakes are readily available, I will never understand. Moving on…)
Harriet lives with her parents and her nanny Ole Golly. She is absolutely devastated when Ole Golly leaves after a blow up with her parents. To add to her fragility, Harriet loses track of her super secret spy notebook during a game of tag on the playground. Harriet’s notebook not only contained her observations on her oddball neighbors, but also her private thoughts on her classmates- and best friends.
This part breaks my heart. Every time I read it, I feel the terrible sinking sensation I get in my stomach when I know I’ve hurt someone’s feelings. Poor Harriet is devastated when she’s shunned by her friends and classmates, but she’s confused. Everything she wrote was true! Luckily, Ole Golly writes Harriet a letter and offers her some sage advice- she has to apologize, and she has to lie in order to get her friends back.
I’m not big into poetry, but I do enjoy Emily Dickinson, and this poem reminds me of Harriet’s plight:
Tell all the truth but tell it slant,
Success in circuit lies,
Too bright for our infirm delight
The truth’s superb surprise;
As lightning to the children eased
With explanation kind,
The truth must dazzle gradually
Or every man be blind.
Harriet’s childish bluntness got her into a heap of trouble. Just because you THINK someone might turn into a mad scientist or acts like a little old lady doesn’t mean you should SAY it. And even if you didn’t mean to go public with your thoughts, you should apologize for them anyway. Because hurting people’s feelings sucks. (Keep that in mind all you internet trolls who are reading my blog! I cry easily!)
Eventually though, it all works out for Harriet. She publicly retracts her meanness toward her friends and classmates and all is forgiven. The lesson here? If you have nothing nice to say, don’t say it. I think every kid should be required to read this book before signing up for Facebook. I thank God every day that Facebook wasn’t around when I was a tween. What a nightmare.
Have any of the bookworms out there read Harriet The Spy? What did you think?
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