Juliet’s Notebook

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Miranda’s Story

I remember there was a period of time – around 1970?? – all the girls were reading Harriet the Spy – I can’t remember if the librarian read some of it to us… it wasn’t BIG like Harry Potter or anything, but it was one of those books that all the girls  at least “knew about”.
I wasn’t a big reader as a kid, but I really liked the illustrations in HTS, and illustrations were always important to me.  I loved the way Harriet looked.

What was so important to me was my identification with Harriet.

So much of the time, I indentified with male characters – both in books and on TV.  I wasn’t confused about my gender, but I just didn’t “get” female characters – they were not a reflection of who I felt I was.  They didn’t look like me, they didn’t dress like me, and they certainly didn’t act like me.

I can remember vividly, looking at pictures of Pipi Longstockings, who I adored and admired, and trying to figure out how I could “look like” her – while at the same time, knowing it was hopeless.

Harriet was different – although her life circumstances weren’t like mine, she was like me – it was really kind of amazing.  I could absolutely identify with her character, her interests, her concerns, her inner dialogue, her desires…  she was very real to me, I loved her, and I wanted to be like her.

HTS reflected contemporary, urban life.  The kids in the book (especially Harriet) were deep, thoughtful, and very independant.  What was really fabulous was that Harriet created her own adventures right where she lived – in her own city and neighbourhood, out of the stuff of her own life.  She didn’t have to go “someplace else” – either magically or geographic – to have an amazing time; she used her own skills and initiative and observation and imagination to have it right where she lived.

The book made us believe that we could do exactly the same thing, /wherever/ we were.  We didn’t have to be in New York with Harriet – that was never the point of the book.  The point was that wherever you are, it’s exciting.

The book also was very powerful in that it gave kids – girls especially – an example of “safe” disobedience – Harriet was kind and decent, but she intentionally and knowingly did things she wasn’t supposed to do.

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Helene’s Story

After reading HTS I started keeping a secret notebook, but obnoxiously made sure it was an open secret. I was the only kid to do so in grade 6 (we weren’t a terribly literate bunch) and it was a Bad Idea. Now I just blenderize all my accurately mean (or meanly accurate?) social observations into fiction.

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Lin’s Story

[Lin and a friend became spies together]

We would make our rounds usually starting from Libby’s drugstore (but not before doing some flips on the railing in the IGA parking lot). I always had mixed feelings about going into Libby’s though because I never liked Frank, the adult son of the owner/pharmacist. He used to tap kids on the top of their head with his pen. If that wasn’t demeaning enough, he would make kids empty out their pockets from time to time when he suspected them of shoplifting. He made me do it one time… While we were in Libby’s we’d often pop our heads in upstairs at the little lunch counter. What was that place called? The Sea something. Seaview was it? It was run by a German lady whose name escapes me at the moment. Was it Schultz?… There was a woman with Downs Syndrome who used to go there fairly often. I used to like to observe her, but I was a little scared of her because I didn’t understand why she looked, sounded and acted different.

Then we’d sneak downstairs where the public washroom, stockroom, and backdoor was and derive quite a bit of excitement and pleasure from being somewhere we were not supposed to be. Next we’d head to the bakery for sweet treats if we had any money, or go to Dairy Queen… Then we’d stop at the Pick A Pocket book store and visit with Mrs. Aymer … who we would often see closer to home after business hours being taken for a walk by her very energetic dalmations. Then on to the florists – “Flowers By Lily”… We’d go downstairs mostly because we liked the stairs themselves (I seem to recall it being a wrought iron spiral staircase, but I’m not entirely sure). We’d also “spy” on the floral arranging that was sometimes going on in the backroom by the stairs, then we would take the little breezeway between the buildings to the back alley to see what we could find going on behind the street.

I remember one time we were spying on some shopkeeper, or maybe we’d been hanging around the laundromat(?), and we attracted the attention of an adult who chased us down that breezeway and into the back alley. We made up some story to explain his behavior by speculating he was up to no good and didn’t want us discovering what it was. We took this as evidence he was one of Them.

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Amy’s Story

I loved reading Harriet the Spy and sequels when I was little. I don’t remember ever _playing_ Harriet the Spy (keeping notebooks, sneaking around, or choosing favorite characters to “be” with friends, etc.) BUT my younger brother did. He kept spy notebooks when he was in second grade; he says he never did rounds, but he listened in on conversations and wrote things down. (At some point when he was in third grade he read my diary and got in BIG trouble for it, but I’m not sure that that was Harriet-related.)

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Spy Tattoo

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Purple Socks’ Story

I’ve read elsewhere of women my age who were inspired to keep notebooks and start their own spy routes, eat tomato sandwiches and leave anonymous notes after reading Harriet the Spy and The Long Secret. At eleven I didn’t particularly like tomatoes, didn’t have the patience to write, and already had a spy route, so I wasn’t inspired to start any of those things. What Harriet did inspire me to do was to experiment with crossdressing. I used whatever money I earned doing odd jobs to buy boys’ clothes on the sly and then went into other neighborhoods to play at passing as a boy. When an old man in a grocery store called me “Sonny,” I knew I had passed some sort of test. It was remarkably easy to to do, and it was as deliciously thrilling as sneaking into Agatha K. Plumber’s dumbwaiter. Over the course of a year, I developed quite an extensive wardrobe of boys’ clothes which I kept hidden at the back of my closet when I wasn’t using it as my own version of a spy uniform.

Read the whole story here.

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Sandy’s Story

[I asked Sandy, “Did you dress like her? Buy a notebook and scribble in it? Sneak into places you shouldn’t have?” She wrote back:]

YES to all of your questions, Faith. but i was always more chicken than Harriet, and would stick mainly to public places like Noland’s and Cox’s, the local grocery stores, or our Quaker church, or spying on people i knew from school. i’m lucky my notebooks were never found, because i could be quite the little snark, following Harriet’s ways. i guess i didn’t learn that “lesson” from the book!

i think i first read Harriet the Spy in 3rd grade, and the other two books later on. i started keeping a spy notebook around the same time, and playing Spy with my best friend. i am attaching a picture of one of the small notebooks, as well as some (i think) pretty hilarious examples of my “spying.” the last page tells about an incident i remember well, when my friend rachel and i went into a 7-11 wearing our usual get-up of jeans and hoodies and the lady at the counter wondered if we were boys or girls. it was pretty exciting to us, a small coup in some way. when i read K.T. Horning’s essay on Harriet the Spy, it reminded me of this day. at the time, i wasn’t consciously “dressing like a boy” and i don’t think Harriet was either. we were dressed like we wanted to be. but it had never occurred to me until i read her essay, that girls at the time the book was written didn’t usually wear jeans (it still surprises me!). so it does seem like part of the reason i idolized Harriet was that she did what she wanted, how she wanted to – which was the way i wanted to be. subconsciously, she was a queer hero for me, like for K.T.

i also remember copying the way Harriet wrote, saying “Check on this” or “remember that” about things i didn’t quite understand. i just wanted to BE her.  i felt some kinship with Beth Ellen in The Long Secret, too. and also with Sport, in his book. for me, that is the genius of Louise Fitzhugh’s writing: it is so easy to connect with her characters.  even though i grew up in a small town in indiana which wasnt at all like the upper east side, i could totally empathize with the emotions in the book: Harriet’s frustrations at school, her bewilderment over some of the things adults did, and her her ambitions to be the best spy in the world. there were also things in the book that i didn’t pick up on until i was an adult myself, rereading the book as i do every few years. the transition from child to… a bit past childhood when Ole Golly leaves. realizing the hard way that being blunt can make your friends hate you. every time i read it, it seems fresh and relevant. my aunt, who gave me the book so long ago, also loves Harriet. we talk about what she would be like as a grown person, and that she would probably not have an easy time of it. it’s comforting.

i lend copies of Harriet the Spy to lots of friends, wanting to pass on the love, and last year i lent it to a teacher friend of mine who had a surprising reaction. she said she just couldn’t get into it, even though she trusted my opinion. she said she had started it, and gotten turned off by the main character- a rich white girl on the upper east side. wow. hearing Harriet reduced to that made me sad, but i could understand that she’s not for everyone, and yes, the cast is very white. but there’s so much more to it!!

i got my tattoo a year ago last august, for my 28th birthday. i wanted to do something meaningful to mark 20 years of living in the united states (i was in germany until i was 8), and when i thought back to that time, my obsession with spying stood out so clearly, and after i got the idea to choose an image of Harriet, i knew she was what i wanted. i’ve since googled “Harriet the Spy tattoo” and found a few other really neat ones! mine is on my left lower calf.

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Janis’ Story

I was a huge nerdy reader as a kid (surprise!) and when some of the kids at school got excited about Harriet it felt pretty cool at first to see them also getting enthusiastic about a book I really liked. But it all turned quite negative — girls got notebooks and wrote down nasty things about each other, then passed them around. It was an ugly shock to me, that something as rich and nuanced as this book could inspire some people to just act worse than they usually did. I don’t think this whole trend at my school lasted long, but it took a lot of the joy out of the book for me.

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Wendy’s Story

I have abeautiful 5 year old daughter who has adored Harriet since she first saw it one year ago. She plunks away on the old typewrter, writes notes and stories in all of her many journals, and today we did a photo essay on our 6 mile hike…Harriet has become our household hero…along with Velma, Scooby and the Gang of course!

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