Sunday, November 09, 2008

Harriet the Spy

I just discovered a really neat fact about the new Manhattan neighborhood I'm moving to - Louise Fitzhugh, the author of Harriet the Spy lived on the very block I will be living on, at the time she wrote Harriet, and Harriet's neighborhood will be mine.

If you haven't read "Harriet the Spy" do so at your earliest convenience. It's classified as a children's book - but then so is "Adventures of Huckleberry Finn" - both books can be enjoyed just as much - or possibly even more - by adults than by children.

But a sample of "Harriet" proves its greatness much more than all my praise:
The cook put cake and milk in front of her.

"What you always writing in that dad-blamed book for?" she asked with a sour little face.

"Because," Harriet said around a bit of cake, "I'm a spy."

"Spy, huh. Some spy."

"I am a spy. I'm a good spy, too. I've never been caught."

Cook settled herself with a cup of coffee. "How long you been a spy?"

"Since I could write. Ole Golly told me if I was going to be a writer I better write down everything, so I'm a spy that writes down everything."


Harriet knew the cook couldn't think of anything to say when she did that.

"I know all about you."

"Like fun you do." The cook looked startled.

"I do too. I know you live with your sister in Brooklyn and that she might get married and you wish you had a car and you have a son that's no good and drinks."

"What do you do, child? Listen at doors?"

"Yes," said Harriet.

"Well, I never," said the cook. "I think that's bad manners."

"Ole Golly doesn't. Ole Golly says find out everything you can cause life is hard enough even if you know alot."

"I bet she don't know you spooking round this house listening at doors."

"Well, how am I supposed to find out anything?"

"I don't know" - the cook shook her head - "I don't know about that Ole Golly."

"What do you mean?" Harriet felt apprehensive.

"I don't know. I just don't know. I wonder about her."

Ole Golly came into the room. "What is it you don't know?"

Cook looked as though she might hide under the table. She stood up. "Can I get you your tea, Miss Golly?" she asked meekly.

"That would be most kind of you," said Ole Golly and sat down.

Harriet opened her notebook:


"What do you have in school this year, Harriet?" asked Ole Golly.

"English, History, Geography, French, Math, ugh, Science, ugh, and the Performing Arts, ugh, ugh, ugh." Harriet rattled these off in a very bored way.

"What history?"

"Greeks and Romans, ugh, ugh, ugh."

"They're fascinating."


"They are. Just wait, you'll see. Talk about spies. Those gods spied on everybody all the time."


"'Yes,' Harriet, not 'yeah.'"

"Well, I wish I'd never heard of them."

"Ah, there's a thought from Aesop for you: 'We would often be sorry if our wishes were gratified.'"

Ole Golly gave a little moo of satisfaction after she had delivered herself of this.

"I think I'll go now," Harriet said.

"Yes," said the cook, "go out and play."

Harriet stood up. "I do not go out to PLAY, I go out to WORK!" and in as dignified a way as possible she walked from the room and up the steps from the kitchen.
It was also illustrated by Fitzhugh and her drawings are classic.

My daughter, who turns 30 years old today (we are doing brunch at Capsoutos Freres), plans to get a tattoo of Harriet the Spy.