Harriet the Spy as a Mirror & Window


Barbara Hardy notes that “we dream in narrative, day-dream in narrative, remember, anticipate, hope, despair, believe, doubt, plan, revise, criticize, construct, gossip, learn, hate, love by narrative. In order really to live, we make up stories about ourselves and others, about the personal as well as the social past and future” (“Narrative as a Primary Act of the Mind,” in The Cool Web: The Pattern of Children’s Reading, 1978).

In Harriet the Spy, the basic premise of the lifestyle of the protagonist, Harriet, is that of narrative. As stated, she has little concept of the thoughts and feelings about the people she discusses in her notebook, as is the case with many young adults. For me, this novel served as a window into the experiences of my 10 year-old niece who often makes hurtful statements without thinking and/or considering the consequences or the feelings of her audience.

Both she and I can take experiences from this novel: she, a lesson in consequences—she’ll witness the effects of Harriet’s actions on her friends. If she’s reflective (which most pre-adolescents are not) she’ll see that the attitudes and reactions of Harriet mirror her own responses to situations and understand that the subsequent adult reactions to those actions are not always favorable. I’ll get a glimpse of the pre-adolescent mind and perhaps be able to better sympathize with her situation.

Also much like Harriet, my niece learns through inquiry, though not inquiry into the lives of people. While Harriet wants to learn anything and everything about everyone, my niece’s inquiry generally relegates itself to asking questions and making predictions about high interest novels (she’s currently reading the final Harry Potter installment) and high interest television shows designed to cause viewers to ask questions (we’re currently working on the first season of NBC’s Heroes).

What the novel Harriet the Spy initially afforded me was an insight into the mind of the 10 year old with whom I spend a lot of time, as she and Harriet are quite similar. Young adults, especially those who are reluctant reader, tend to look for familiar situations to which they can relate in their readings.

Fitzhugh, L. (1964). Harriet the Spy. New York: Yearling.

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