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Liz Tells Frank What Happened In “Harriet the Spy”

Dear Frank,

I was surprised when you told me that you’d never read Harriet the Spy, because it’s one of those children’s books that seems so ubiquitous. Maybe that’s a girl thing? I mean, I’ve never read a Hardy Boys novel. Maybe we’re both missing out. (Maybe you more than me, though.)

The titular Harriet M. Welsch, eleven years old, lives with her parents in New York City’s Upper East Side but is largely being raised by her nanny Ole Golly, who encourages her to write and read and think for herself. Harriet’s main passion is for “spying,” which amounts to wandering around her neighborhood and taking notes on the comings and goings of an assortment of relative strangers. She writes down all of her thoughts — harsh and honest and very much what you might expect from an insightful 11-year-old — in a notebook. And that, of course, gets her in trouble.

Well, eventually. First, book-quoting Ole Golly leaves Harriet to get married, shaking up Harriet’s life considerably. And Harriet gets cast as an onion in the school pageant. Harriet pals around with her best friends Scout (the numbers-minded son of an alcoholic writer) and Janey (an aspiring scientist determined to blow up the planet with chemistry). Harriet makes her rounds, scribbling down details from the lives she observes, there are some temper tantrums… This book? PLOT HEAVY.

The big plot twist is when one day, during a game of tag, the other kids in Harriet’s class manage to steal her notebook, reading the secrets within, including Harriet’s blunt thoughts about their personal appearance, behavior, parents and hygiene. Read the rest of this entry

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