Wednesday, December 03, 2008

BB Book Tour - Harriet the Spy

It’s time once again for another blog book tour.

This time the book was Harriet the Spy by Louise Fitzhugh.

I had not read this book as a child, but I had seen the movie, being the Buffy-file that I am. I thought the movie was nice and I was curious about the book. I found the book an interesting read, but I was put off a bit by the social and class situations presented in this book, which was written and set in the 1960s. But I did find this fascinating profile of Harriet on NPR that actually gave me more insight into the book. Now, onto the questions:

Harriet's parents almost entirely delegate all parenting tasks to Ole Golly or Cook. Did you have any particular reaction to their uninvolved parenting style? Was your reaction influenced by your own infertility/journey toward parenthood?

I think the first thought in my head was “How perfectly selfish Harriet’s parents are…why did they even have her?” “Do they know anything about her?”

I took a step back and remembered that this was written in the 1960s and parenting philosophies were different. I still think that, especially in the beginning of the book, they showed very little interest in their child and I don’t think they represent the “norm” of that time. Her parents are represented as always going out, always too busy to really listen or see their child. While I think that sometimes as parents we can get too busy/harried by life and can sometimes not really listen to our children, I don't think that most parents today go out so often and so socially. Culturally it is different, and logistically (with babysitter expenses, etc.) is not likely.

I did appreciate that after Ole Golly left, they made some efforts to get to know Harriet. Before she left, they relied too much on others to parent their child, and it just irritated me. And I am sure that is partially because of infertility and partially because I am so hands-on as a parent, I just could not comprehend not spending time with them, not sharing my world and their world.

Despite the fact that I could not relate to their parenting style, I did find some way to relate to them. The way that they struggled to understand Harriet’s behavior reminded me of our struggles to understand our son. I was especially struck by the part when Harriet went to therapy. We take Michael to therapy for his ADHD, and the doctor (as I am sure most child therapists do) also plays games with him. And he often tries to decipher what the therapist is truly doing, just as Harriet does. It often is hard to actually understand what makes Michael tick--and it is a struggle that even the therapist has to deal with.

When you read it, do you read it as an adult reading a child's book or do you forget that you're grown-up and think of it in the part of your mind that is still 12?

I did not read this book as a child, but I think I would have liked it as a child more than I liked it as an adult. I was a very precocious tomboy girl and a lot of Harriet’s personality would have appealed to me as a 10-12 year old.

BUT, I read it as an adult reading a child’s book and I couldn’t shake that mindset. I have read (and often read to my son) children’s books from my past and I have had the feeling of being a child again. This book, however…not so much. I just couldn’t keep from thinking about how Harriet was being treated by the adults. I just kept wondering why Ole Golly was so damn cryptic, and cynically, I was thinking that in lots of ways, Golly is not helping Harriet at all. I kept thinking of all the parenting issues I had with Harriet’s parents. I started to think about how my son is becoming a teenager and what ways I will have to deal with that. All those thoughts crowded out the small portion of my brain that could relate to Harriet with my inner child. I found that I was thinking about infertility with the couple who got the big giant baby statue, I was thinking about immigration when she was spying on the grocer.

I think the only time I was able to actually remember my own childhood was with the cat man—I remembered our own neighborhood cat lady, and I started thinking about my neighborhood during my childhood and what places I spied from.

When Ole Golly leaves after her engagement, Harriet notes that things feel the same but she seems to have a little hole in her heart. When was the first time you remember feeling a similar loss and does it still remain with you today?

I think the first time I felt such a loss was when I was 7 years old. I had a best friend (a boy) who I had known almost all my short life. He lived down the street from me and our parents had no problem with us going off by ourselves to play (his parents both worked, and were not around that often). I remember that he had a wonderful play area in his basement (I think it was his basement—it seemed like a cave). When it was time to go to school, we walked to kindergarten together—first day photos are all I really have that are tangible of this boy. At the time, we imagined that we would know each other forever, that we would get married, even. And then—his family moved away. I was heart broken. We tried to keep in touch—he sent me cards that had Scooby Doo on them—but, it did not last and we never saw each other again. The loss of my best friend was profound, especially since I was an only child (my brother wasn’t born until I was almost 9 years old). BUT, this loss, which seemed so profound—I have barely thought of it in all these years. I barely remember what he looked like, his name (I think it was Leslie—or was it Bobby?). I know that through out my childhood the sting of that loss was never far from the surface…but I guess it healed over and other joys and losses have buried it.

Hop along to another stop on this blog tour by visiting the main list at Stirrup Queens ( You can also sign up for the next book on this online book club: An Exact Replica of a Figment of My Imagination by Elizabeth McCracken.


Deb said...

I didn't read this book before either-at least that I recall. I guess I didn't really find the portrayal of her parents so disturbing because I accounted it to the time period. It seems to me that most of the representations of that era have some similar situations. I don't remember where the parents are in Hardy Boys and Nancy Drew. Even in the Brady Bunch, while the parents are there probably more often than in this book, there were still many moments that fell to Alice. Maybe the fact that they were more involved indicates where the tide was turning.

Personally, I am glad that more parents seem more hands on today except for extreme helicopter parents of course. Being included in a child's world is a gift.

Thanks for sharing your thoughts!

Kristin said...

Your view of Ole Golly is interesting. I think that while she was very well meaning, her early interactions with Harriet weren't that helpful and probably helped form the attitudes that lead Harriet to spy.

In Due Time said...

Thanks for stopping by! :-)

Have a great Wednesday!

loribeth said...

Thank you for posting the link to that NPR story -- fascinating stuff!! Also, thanks for mentioning the childless couple with the baby statue -- you're the only person I've read so far who has. I was going to submit a question about them, but I thought for sure someone else would, but nobody did. ; ) Maybe everyone else was thinking the same, lol.

I also appreciated your comments on losing your childhood best friend. I was always the one who was moving away, because my dad got transferred every 3-5 years. It wasn't until I was an adult that people started moving away on ME -- the shoe was on the other foot & I didn't like it very much.

Annie said...

I also found myself frustrated with the way Golly related to Harriet. I don't remember being bothered by it as a kid, probably because all of her cryptic quotes and advice went over my head, but now as an adult I am thinking, "That is NOT an answer."

I do wonder how the story would've been different if Golly was around when the notebook was discovered and everything went down with the kids at school.

Also, a good point about the cultural differences. I didn't really think about that and found it supremely frustrating to read about her parents.

Lollipop Goldstein said...

What a sweet, sad story of the friend who moved away.

It's so interesting that you didn't read it as a child and have this completely unique viewpoint reading it only as an adult. I'm not sure I would have loved the book if I hadn't read it as a child and if I couldn't remember wanting to be a spy and writer so badly after reading the book.

Queenie. . . said...

It's interesting that I don't have children, and yet my reaction to the book was very similar to yours. I also thought that I would have enjoyed it more as a child than I did as an adult. Harriet's parents drove me crazy!

Cassandra said...

It's interesting that you were struck by Harriet's parents going out socially -- that part didn't bother me at all. I think it's entirely possible to be 100% there emotionally and still leave the house sometimes. In fact, I am constantly complimenting the few people we know who manage to maintain some kind of social life (whether as a couple or with others) despite having kids.

I guess Harriet's parents were gone so much that she barely saw them sometimes, but it seemed like even when they were in the house they didn't pay her much attention.

Killing time...

Things I have been doing lately: Job hunting Cuddling with cats Worrying about the world at large Worrying about Michael's future...