I haven’t read Harriet the Spy in many years. It’s probably on that shelf of books at my parents’ house—the one they’ve been bugging me to sort through. My mind’s a little fuzzy on the details of the story. But here’s what I do remember:
- I carried a notebook and pencil around the neighborhood for quite some time after I read it. I didn’t live in the city like Harriet, so my notes were restricted to noting things like what the garbage men did. I didn’t bother to note the squirrels’ activities, though it would have filled up the book faster.
- The story was full of characters. They were weird and I could picture them, hear them, and even see what they looked like and where they were simply from the descriptions.
- It packed an emotional punch. Man did Harriet do herself in! Stomachache city for this sensitive reader, but I still loved it, which is saying something. I won’t say more in case you haven’t read it.
I may no longer be clear on the details of the story, but my memories of reading it are still strong. The story sparked emotion, visualization, and imaginary play. This is definitely a book I need to revisit soon.
At my elementary school, you had to get permission from your parents to check Are You There God? It’s Me Margaret out of the library. The permission books were kept in the librarian’s back room. My parents would have been fine with signing, but the mechanics of the whole thing were kind of a big deal, so I never got it from the library. In social circles it wasn’t considered an embarrassing book to carry around, not like Forever, so I ordered it from the book order, and loved it. I passed it on to my daughter when she was the right age for it. The book introduces things like puberty, faith, and growing older in a way that allows kids to consider the ideas and information privately. It allows readers to ruminate without making themselves vulnerable to others’ opinions.
This was the book to read in upper elementary school. I remember it being whispered about a lot among the girls and passed around with a certain page open. It was a book about sex, and of course we all wanted to know!
You could get it from the school library if you had a signed permission slip from your parents, but then the boys, and perhaps even the teacher, would see that you had the book, so that really wasn’t a viable option. At some point I got a copy of my own, which I still have. Strangely, I don’t have any memory of how I got it, but I remember it made a huge impression on me. It was a safe way to put myself in a situation I hadn’t encountered yet and allowed me to consider what sexual intimacy would mean for me.
I love, love, loved this book when I was young. In seventh grade three of my friends and I performed a skit with a scene from Little Women for English class. I was thrilled because I got to play Beth. I thought it was terribly romantic to die of scarlet fever, especially when you’re the perfect one who never does anything wrong.
When I was in eighth grade we moved to Boston. My father’s office was near a really big Salvation Army thrift store. It had a whole room full of books for fifty cents or a quarter. I think he often went there on his lunch break and when he came home in the evening he brought me back treasures. Among them were a 1924 edition of Little Women, a six book set of Louisa May Alcott books including Little Women, Little Men, and Jo’s Boys and Invincible Louisa, and a biography of Lousia May Alcott written by Cornelia Meigs and dated 1933.