On rude children and why they are so fun

I finished ‘Harriet the Spy’ by Louise Fitzhugh this afternoon, and the fact that I read it so quickly shows how much I enjoyed it. I didn’t actually know what it was about, really, before I picked it up, but discovering the story was half the fun, as well as the little pearls of wisdom that popped up in the text every now and then. Some of my favourites were:


‘I’m glad I’m not perfect – I’d be bored to death’.

‘I’m glad my life is different. I bet they’ll be doing that for the rest of their lives – and she felt rather sorry for them. But only for a moment. As she walked along the street she thought, I have a nice life.’

‘Math is for them that only want to count everything. It’s them that wants to know WHAT they’re counting that matters.’(especially relevant as I have just started a masters course in accounting, which just isn’t my cup of tea at all).

In case, like me, you have absolutely no idea what ‘Harriet the Spy’ is about, let me sum it up for you. Harriet wants to by a spy, and a writer, and therefore she carries a notebook with her everywhere and writes down what she observes, and what she thinks about people. Much of her notes aren’t very nice at all. One day, her friends find her notebook and read what she had written about them. They are not pleased.

I thought that perhaps this story would turn out all mushy and full of morality about ‘if you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say it at all’, but I was wrong. No one wants to be told how to behave, and what is right and wrong, by a story – least of all Harriet. The morality of the story is not obnoxious, because Harriet is just so obnoxious. She screams, she carries on, she throws tantrums –  she is a complete drama queen, in essence. I found myself thinking all these things, yet liking her all the same. The fact that she doesn’t change, that she doesn’t turn a new leaf, that she doesn’t become a saintly, sickly-sweet little girl who is perfectly nice to everyone she meet, despite knowing that she was in the wrong makes me like her even more.

Harriet is rude, and manipulative, and downright awful sometimes – but who isn’t? I understand why this book has become a classic. Some books have terrible children in them, but they always change. As a child, didn’t we all hate the goody-goody two shoes, the teacher’s pet, the dibber-dobber? (not that I can talk – I suspect that I was in fact all of these things. How awful.) Most children do have a streak of Harriet within them. And Harriet tells them, that’s okay. You can be naughty, and rude, and manipulative, and think nasty things, and you don’t even have to be sorry about it.

Probably not what an adult wants a child to read about, but isn’t it more fun?



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