Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Me and Harriet the Spy

When I was little, I read Harriet the Spy over and over again. The cover of my Scholastic copy fell off.

They made a movie based on the book fifteen years ago. I hadn’t read the book in a long time, though the copy with no cover is on a shelf somewhere. I went to the movie on my birthday.

I started crying in the middle of the movie, and didn’t stop till twenty minutes after it ended.

Why did I love Harriet so much?

With her short hair, bangs and glasses, sweatshirt and jeans, short and stubby, she looked like me. I was almost the only kid I knew who wore glasses. I was short. I’m not sure I was really stubby, but I felt stubby. Harriet marching along on the cover of that book looked so familiar and comfortable.

She got teased and excluded. Really bad. Her ex-friends had a whole parade about hating her. I got teased and left out every day. So I liked being inside the head of someone who knew what it was like. And she fought back! She tried lots of things! She got her friends back.

She had backbone.

She wanted to be a writer. No, she was a writer. She filled a whole trunkful of notebooks. She had a special pouch to carry her notebook in.

I wanted to be a writer too. In fact, I made a spy notebook, which my friend stole, read, and was mad at me about. Should have seen that one coming. I think I wanted to be a writer because it was the first time I noticed that you could be something. For years I was going to be a novelist, until I discovered that plots aren’t my strong point. (I am a writer now, among other things. It just turned out that I'm better at explaining things.)

I was pretty vague about what would happen when I grew up. I really thought I was going to be a housewife (although maybe writing novels at the dining room table). Harriet at eleven years old had an ambition, no, a profession. Even through the vagueness that lasted into college, I had that seed: of wanting to be something.

Well, Harriet, now I am a thing or two.

Thank you.


  1. HA! My older sister turned me on to Harriet the Spy. We both had spy notebooks and would go around the neighborhood looking in people's windows and writing notes! Eventually, the spy notebooks turned into journals. By the end of high school, I'd filled 30 or 40.

    How fun to get back in touch with that girl...thanks!

  2. Yay! Glad to bring her back to you.

  3. Oh, Do Mi! I didn't connect with Harriet the way you did. In fact, I'm not sure I ever read this book. But, I read thousands of books as a child (which totally freaked out our local librarian) and I truly believe that doing so saved my life.

    Childhood can be very alienating and isolating. Being able to connect with a character in a story can change all of that.

    What a wonderful reminder that reading IS fundamental. :-)

  4. Harriet the Spy! I loved this book as a kid, and also carried spy notebooks everywhere. :) I remember admiring her focus, her certainty in her chosen profession. (And envying it a little too! Ahh, if only I could go back in time and reassure my young scanner self...)

    Enjoying reading my way through your archives, Do Mi!

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