Wednesday, August 12, 2015

Would Harriet The Spy Fly Today? by Michael Gettel-Gilmartin

The other day, on a road trip with my wife and without our kids, my wife groped in our book bag and pulled out her old copy of Harriet The Spy. "Oh," she exclaimed. "I used to love that book."

"Um," I replied, wondering whether to confess. "I don't think I've ever read it..."

Of course, it was soon decided that my wife would read it aloud to me--a real-live audio book!

It was, I admit, quite humorous in places because, well, Harriet is quite the character. But I did find several things discomfiting about the novel (which was published in 1964) from a modern standpoint.

For one, Harriet is very mean. She often refers to other people as 'fat.' Even when her notebook is discovered by the other children, and all the mean things she has written about them come out into the open, she feels herself wronged, and decides to get revenge. In her revenge list, she writes things like
"Laura Peters: Her hair. Cut it off. Or make a bald spot.... Janie: Break her little finger... Sport: call him a sissy and tell everyone he reads cook books..."

Maybe I'm just being too sensitive, but I do wonder if a novel like Harriet the Spy would be published today.

Have you ever reread a classic, or a favorite story from your youth, and seen it with new eyes? If so, leave a comment about the experience.


  1. I remember Tom Sawyer being read to me by a teacher or parent. Now that classic seems distant to kids. Part of it is the time period and the way the dialect in 1800's Missouri is a bit hard to embrace at first. There are also plenty of books that have come out in the past five years that I adore, but can't seem to find a audience with the youth they were intended for.

  2. There are parts of Anne of Green Gables that don't hold up well today. 50 years ago, it was pretty common to make fun of "fat kids" in literature. The Ruth Che reissues had alarming moments when children had no supervision or invited homeless men to live in the attic! Things do change!

  3. This speaks to me as there are many children's books that seem timeless and for a reason. I think because they connect us to universal emotion that doesn't change even with the times. Some of my favorite children's books that I still connect to and "fly today for me" are the Little House books.

    However, I love Roald Dahl but several of his books don't fly for me today because I don't agree with the vile things adults do (or would get away with today!) that we see in some of his books. They seem "over the top" and almost caricature-like (and maybe that was his point). Yet, I've read some of his real stories about growing up in a tough boarding school with vile adults so I can see how he wrote from that!


Thanks for adding to the mayhem!