Harriet M. Welsch

As a child, I read Harriet the Spy more times than any other book. Actually, since my rereading of Harry Potter is divided by seven, I think Harriet the Spy still holds the title for my most often read book. Over 20 times? 30? There was a period of time when I read it over and over again, partially to beat my brother’s supposed record of reading Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, but mainly because I couldn’t get enough.

Clearly there was something there for me with Harriet.  At the time, I know I loved the details of Harriet’s life: the routine of cake and milk after school, the yellow bathroom, the fact that she, too, ate the same thing every day for lunch (although, yuck, tomato sandwiches). I poured over the page where she lists out her spy supplies; I bought notebooks and imitated Harriet’s writing style.  I loved writing; I loved spying.
But looking back at what made the book so special to me? I think those imperfections of Harriet, the ones that made me squirmy at the time, might actually be the best part about her.  She’s bossy, she’s nosy, she’s stubborn, she’s mean.  So was I. So am I. In a world of books where the character’s greatest fault was often something like a temper (after her sister burned all of her writing) or talking too much (to the secret delight of crusty relatives and townsfolk), I think it must have been nice to have Harriet by my side.  As wise Ole Golly told her, “You know what? You’re an individual, and that makes people nervous. And it’s gonna keep making people nervous for the rest of your life.”
Here’s what I think might be in Harriet’s book stack.  To be read under the covers with a flashlight.

Harriet’s Book Stack

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Dear Ijeawele, or a Feminist Manifesto in Fifteen Suggestions

Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
“We have a world full of women who are unable to exhale fully because they have for so long been conditioned to fold themselves into shapes to make themselves likeable.”

The Great Brain Reforms

John D. Fitzgerald
I feel like the Great Brain would fit well into Harriet’s group of friends. If you never read the Great Brain series as a kid, you’re missing out. I think these are out of print, which is a true shame, as it’s a series that, like Roald Dahl books, seems to be universally loved.

My Life with Bob: Flawed Heroine Keeps Book of Books

Pamela Paul
I can’t quite put my finger on why, but I can see Harriet growing up to be Pamela Paul and writing a delightful memoir like this.

Some Kind of Happiness

Claire Legrand
This is a new middle grade that’s really special. I think Harriet would love the list making done by the main character and find her struggles and imagination to be realistically fleshed out and wonderfully relatable.

Still Life

Louise Penny
Despite her dream job combination of writer and spy, I don’t think Harriet grows up to be a spy. I do think she’d still get a kick out of reading about detective work, though.

The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie

Alan Bradley
Harriet would love Flavia, right? She’s like Harriet and Jane combined AND is kicking butt and solving real cases.

Miss Buncle’s Book

D.E. Stevenson
The people of Silverstream seem like spying gold for Harriet.

What do you think? What other books should be on her stack?


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