I loved making this piece for the Lawrence Public Library’s Banned Book Trading Card Celebration. Mine was one of seven selected for reproduction and handed out to library patrons last week. Card packages are also available for sale through the library. Here’s what I wrote about my entry:
Harriet the Spy by Louise Fitzhugh
Harriet the Spy is a classic children’s novel published in 1964. According to a number of sources, it was banned from some libraries and schools for “setting a bad example for children.” In an unsuccessful attempt to ban the book in 1983, critics complained that it “teaches children to lie, spy, backtalk, and curse.” Harriet the Spy has won numerous awards and is often listed as among the best children’s novels. The climax of the book occurs when Harriet’s friends find her spy notebook, read it, and discover that they have been spied on, too. Hurt by Harriet’s harsh words, they retaliate. With the help of Harriet’s nanny, Ole Golly, Harriet eventually learns how to regain their trust.
Harriet the Spy and I share a fiftieth birthday this year. I first read Harriet the Spy in the mid-1970s when I was somewhere around ten years old. The book inspired my friend Anne and me to follow Harriet’s example. We bought notebooks and became spies too, writing in Harriet’s voice and even in all caps as her words are expressed in the book. I just finished re-reading Harriet the Spy for this submission and I loved it again. Harriet is seriously non-conforming and somewhat subversive. The book, too, is deeply unconventional, critical, and emotionally complicated. While Harriet’s notes on her friends and others are painfully frank and merciless, she is also at times reflective and compassionate, especially towards some who do not share her own privileged lifestyle.
The scratchboard drawing I made for this submission portrays a scene from the book that struck me. On Harriet’s regular spy route she surreptitiously watches Harrison Withers, a man who makes elaborate and beautiful birdcages out of wire. He also has twenty-five cats. Harriet is intrigued by Harrison because, although poor, he appears happy. I loved Harriet’s spying notes on this scene where, using advice given by her nanny, Ole Golly, she tries to sort out what makes sense for happiness:
HE LOVES TO DO THAT. IS THIS WHAT OLE GOLLY MEANS? SHE SAYS PEOPLE WHO LOVE THEIR WORK LOVE LIFE. DO SOME PEOPLE HATE LIFE? ANYWAY I WOULDN’T MIND LIVING LIKE HARRISON WITHERS BECAUSE HE LOOKS HAPPY EXCEPT I WOULDN’T LIKE ALL THOSE CATS. I MIGHT EVEN LIKE A DOG