Harriet the Spy: 50th Anniversary Edition, by Louise Fitzhugh

Before I get started, I should make something clear: this is a review of a specific edition of Louise Fitzhugh's Harriet the Spy, not the book itself. I am constitutionally incapable of saying anything about the actual story beyond “If you haven't read it, seriously, drop everything and do so IMMEDIATELY.”

For those of you (sad, legitimately to-be-pitied people) who haven't read Harriet the Spy, it is a delight. Harriet M. Welsch is a nosy, prickly, independent little kid growing up in New York's Upper East Side in the 1960s. She's dead set on becoming a spy, and has begun prepping for her future career by developing an amateur spy route that takes her down alleyways, up dumbwaiters, and over strangers' skylights. She keeps a careful record of the information she uncovers, as well as copious notes about her friends, family, and classmates. When her notebook is discovered, she learns a home truth about growing up: honesty is not a free pass for everything.

Earlier this year, Random House released a handsome 50th anniversary edition of Harriet the Spy. The book includes over a dozen essays by various authors and critics, focusing on everything from the book's origins (Fitzhugh viewed herself as a visual artist, and had to be coaxed into transforming her ideas into a full story by her editor), the unique charm of the story, and Harriet's influence on generations of impressionable children.

I had a few complaints: the essays are all short, and too many are superficial. I wish the editors had included a factual history of the book and its author. There are several typos and editing errors. (Also, they left in a word choice that has puzzled me since childhood. Harriet's stern, composed caretaker is described as giving a “moo of satisfaction”. As an adult, I figured out that Fitzhugh probably meant a “moue of satisfaction”, but “moo” it remains.) It was also inexplicably difficult to find this book in stores—I had to special-order mine—but I am sincerely grateful for Randon House's efforts to make the anniversary edition of this classic story seem like an appropriately Big Deal.
Posted by: Julianka


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