Name: Harriet M. Welsch

Occupation: Fictional spy and fifth grader

Location: New York City’s Upper East Side, 1960s

As seen in: Louise Fitzhugh’s 1964 novel; Nickolodeon’s 1996 film adaptation of the novel; Harriet the Spy: Blog Wars, a 2010 Disney Channel TV adaptation

Harriet M. Welsch, a fictional character created by Louise Fitzhugh in her famous 1964 novel and known the world over as Harriet the Spy, is an eleven-year-old aspiring journalist living on the Upper East Side of New York in the 1960s. Largely ignored by her parents and raised by her nanny Ole Golly, Harriet dreams of being a writer and spends the majority of her time on her “spy route,” jotting notes about her friends and classmates in her notebook in preparationg for her future career. A perfectionist and careful observer with a penchant for strict schedules and tomato sandwiches, Harriet has all the characteristics of a genius detective, including the peculiar temperament of detectives like Sherlock Holmes and Hercule Poirot.

Harriet’s life gets complicated when she loses her notebook, which includes many scathing and unforgiving notes about her classmates, friends, and parents. Her classmates discover it, and all of the insults it contains, and as revenge create a Spy Catcher Club based entirely around making Harriet’s life miserable. Harriet fights back, attempting to reconnect with her friends Janie and Sport, without much success, and eventually returns to her notebook to write vengeful plans to punish the members of the Spy Catcher’s Club. It isn’t until Ole Golly convinces Harriet to apologize, and to lie about the truth of her observations in the notebook, that she is able to finally make amends and dismantle the Spy Catcher’s Club.

I love Harrit for many reasons ‚Äì she is stuck in her habits and eccentric in a way that I find relatable and admirable. I think that her legacy is built on more than that, though. Like many famous detectives, she is a loner, particular in her habits, unwaveringly honest, and deeply critical of other humans. But what she discovers over the course of the novel is something often ignored in other detective series ‚Äì that humans are flawed, and that rather than villanize them, part of being a good friend is accepting them despite their inconsistencies and strange habits. Harriet was inspiring to be as a girl because she is unapologetically herself, a trait that is unfortunately still rare in female YA characters today. Over the course of the novel, Harriet doesn’t remedy her character flaws, or the flaws of those around her, but learns how to accept others’ flaws the way she loves her own, and in turn becomes a lovable, though still difficult, character.

-Rebecca Valley
Junior Girl
Girl Museum Inc.

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