Following Fitzhugh’s death in 1974, her friend Lois Morehead became the literary executor for her estate, a role she continued until her death late in 2009 (Morehead obituary). For reasons that are not clear, in 2000 Morehead moved the entire Harriet the Spy series away from Harper & Row to Delacorte, which had published Sport in 1979. At the same time, Delacorte (an imprint of Random House), announced it was commissioning two more books in the Harriet series (Rosen).
Apparently the same author was intended to write both books, but in the end two different writers each wrote one sequel. First, Helen Ericson, a journalist with no other books or children’s writing to her credit, was inexplicably chosen for this difficult task. She produced a book called Harriet Spies Again. Reviews for this book were mixed. Several reviewers quite liked it, including the reviewer for School Library Journal, but devotees of the original were not kind. Kathleen Horning’s review in Horn Book neatly summarizes both the plot and the book’s failings:
The premise here is that Harriet’s parents have gone to live in Paris for three months and have left her in the charge of her former nurse, Ole Golly, who has mysteriously left Montreal and Mr. Waldenstein to return to New York City. Harriet is determined to find out exactly what happened to Ole Golly’s marriage but, quite uncharacteristically, won’t ask her any direct questions. Instead she turns to her old habit of spying. Ole Golly has begun seeing a doctor who lives, conveniently, across the street from Harriet’s brownstone; consequently, Harriet never has to venture off her own block to do her spy work, and much of it, in fact, she is able to do from inside her own home. (She has completely abandoned her regular spy route, for reasons that are never made clear — it’s almost as if this Harriet has developed agoraphobia.) Each of the established characters has become his or her most superficial self: Sport is largely defined by his culinary skills, Ole Golly by her endless literary quotes (although she’s not nearly as well read as Fitzhugh’s original), Harriet’s parents by their cool distance. Her best friends, Janie and Beth Ellen, have completely disappeared, as have all of Harriet’s other wonderfully particularized classmates and neighbors. Most alarming, however, is that Harriet herself has become one-dimensional. She’s obsessed with big words rather than human behavior, and, as a result, her notebook entries are bland and repetitive rather than pithy and scathingly honest. There’s no understanding of Harriet as a future writer who spies and takes notes to try to figure out the world about which she wants to write…
An earlier article in Horn Book had decried the attempt to continue contemporary classics such as Harriet the Spy, even before Ericson’s book was published (Sutton). Kirkus damned it with faint praise (“this safe, comfortable continuation, and her frequent references to past events may tempt readers young [or otherwise] to visit, or revisit, the originals”). Kay Weisman, writing in Booklist, attempted to understand the resistance of critics to spin-offs by other writers, pointing out that re-tellings of fairy tales and traditional stories were often embraced by critics and given awards. “[S]uch books deserve to be looked at with an open mind, with each one evaluated on its own literary merits as well as the way it relates to the original,” she writes, but undermines her own argument by listing numerous series continuations by different authors which are pale imitations of the original.
Perhaps because of the negative reaction to Harriet Spies Again–either Ericson or Delacorte may have gotten cold feet–a different author was contracted to write the next book, Harriet the Spy: Double Agent. The writer of this book, Maya Gold, is hard to trace. Her book jacket bio describes her as “a woman of many identities” and mentions her work as a screenwriter and novelist. Yet there is no trace of a Maya Gold in the Internet Movie Databases, and all other novels by this author (in a Scholastic young adult series) appeared after Harriet the Spy: Double Agent. Maya Gold may be a pseudonym; if so, it is not possible to discover what credentials she had for writing a Harriet book. This time book reviews were scarce, and ranged from mild approval (Carton) to dismissive (Conover Le). The plot of Harriet the Spy: Double Agent revolves around a character introduced in Harriet Spies Again, a neighbour named Annie. Annie joins Harriet on her rounds, but Harriet decides it is Annie she wants to spy on. Her mysterious arrival in the neighbourhood, staying with her aunt and uncle rather than living with parents, and her use of different names in different situations are all mysteries Harriet wishes to clear up. Through no insight of her own she eventually discovers that Annie’s parents are in the middle of an ugly divorce, and Annie escapes mentally by creating different personas for herself. Harriet does not write much in her journal, and she gets a crush on a teenage boy partway through the book. As in Harriet Spies Again, Harriet is not particularly tomboyish. It is difficult to say what part of her character is related to the original Harriet.
Strangely, although the bio blurb for Helen Ericson mentions that she was granted the right to continue the Harriet story by the estate of Louise Fitzhugh, Delacorte’s packaging otherwise does not mention that Fitzhugh is dead. The bio blurb for a recent edition of Sport, accompanied by a picture of a smiling Fitzhugh sitting on a playground swing, lists her studies and her books, but nothing more. The jacket of Harriet the Spy: Double Agent gives bio blurbs for both Gold and Fitzhugh, without mentioning that Fitzhugh is dead. The publisher appears to be wanting it both ways: Fitzhugh is presented as alive, even as her creations are handed to other writers by her estate, her agent, and her publishers, but not Fitzhugh herself.
Obituary for Lois Morehead. New York Times December 11, 2009. Available online at: http://www.legacy.com/obituaries/nytimes/obituary.aspx?n=lois-morehead&pid=137155655
Rosen, Judith. “Harriet the Spy Changes Houses.” Publisher’s Weekly August 7, 2000: 26.
Ericson, Maya. Harriet Spies Again. (New York: Delacorte, 2002).
Orlando, Marie. Review of Harriet Spies Again. School Library Journal May 2002: 152.
Horning, Kathleen. Review of Harriet Spies Again. Horn Book May/June 2002: 328-9.
Sutton, Roger. “Bring Out Your Dead.” Horn Book July/August 2001: 387.
Weisman, Kay. “Reflections on Fiction Spin-offs: Should Harriet Spy Again?” Booklist December 1, 2002: 667.
Review of Harriet Spies Again. Kirkus Reviews March 1, 2002: 331.
Gold, Maya. Harriet the Spy: Double Agent. (New York: Delacorte, 2005).
Internet Movie Database www.imdb.com
Cinderella Cleaners web site http://www.cinderellacleanersbooks.com
Fitzhugh, Louise. Sport. (New York: Delacorte, 2002).