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“Harriet the Spy” and Other Joys of Motherhood

posted Wednesday August 20th, 2008

Before I had kids, I told people I was having kids so I could have a legitimate reason to shop at Baby Gap.

I sort of meant it. I mean, that’s not the only reason, but yeah, it was a reason. I still enjoy a good pass through a BG; just made one the other day. (It helps to have a 7 year old who can wear 5T and a 5 year old whose first-day-of-school outfit was 2T.)

Another important reason to have kids: kid books.

I spent much of my high school career curled up on the couch with a good book — none of the books (except for The Great Gatsby) that were assigned to me, mind you. I tended toward the well-read (okay, memorized) books of my youth. Those, and Donna Parker. (An underappreciated Nancy Drew type, except she wrote for her school newspaper. Seriously. I know. Stop laughing. Check out “Donna Parker Goes to Hollywood” and you’ll understand. You can find it on eBay.)

Anyhow. A zillion years ago, it seems, when Sophie was about 2, I wrote a piece for New Times in which I mentioned that I wasn’t so sure Sophie would ever “get” the book A Wrinkle In Time. I have come to amend that previous statement — I think she might. And not only because the coolest DS parent I have met, a guy named Michael Berube who wrote a book called Life as We Know It, observed I shouldn’t give up hope on that front. (More on him in a later post, I promise. Or check out his web site: www.michaelberube.com)

More and more, Sophie’s “getting” it. And given other factors, I have a feeling she’ll be a big reader someday soon.

A lot of people — people far less dorky than I — say it, but I really mean it: Books were my friends, growing up. Every Judy Blume character (even the boy in Then Again, Maybe I Won’t with the ejaculation problem, even Ralph, for the truly Blume-obsessed), Ramona the Pest, Frances the hedgehog. (Then again, I was the kid who truly thought Mr. Rogers was my personal best friend, so why are you surprised?) I loved them all.

But my favorite was Harriet, Louise Fitzhugh’s girl about NYC, the misfit who took a lot of notes and got herself in trouble that way. (I’ve always favored books set in the city; two other favorites: The Cricket in Times Square and The Genie of Sutton Place. I could read them right now!)

Along with books, I love movies. (Again, painfully obvious and trite. Sorry, that’s me.) But one thing I’m always wary of is movies made out of books. It took me forever to see “The Accidental Tourist” and I still haven’t let myself watch all of “The World According to Garp”. Why slash the reels in my head?

That’s how I felt about Harriet, when the Rosie O’Donnell movie came out. I did see it, and okay, it was fine, but the day this summer when Annabelle came bounding out of summer camp, announcing she’d just seen Harriet the Spy and asking if I knew where her daddy’s binoculars were, I felt like someone had hit me in the stomach. Or at least boxed my ears. (I got that one from Little Princess; loved the book, never saw the movie.)

She was barely 7. I hadn’t thought to present her with the book yet.

As soon as I could, I got myself to Changing Hands, the indie bookstore in Tempe and really, the only place to shop in this town, and bought up all the used copies of Harriet the Spy. I wound up with several versions, and realized the one I had as a child — I saved that version for Annabelle, although the print is impossibly tiny — was the 20th anniversary edition. That’s one old book.

I love the illustrations. When I think of Harriet, Ole Golly and Janie, those are the images that pop up, not the mealymouthed actors who merely played them in the movie. I tried pointing out the illos to Annabelle, but she was disappointed that they didn’t look like the movie characters.

SEE??? I cried silently to the book gods. Look what they’ve done!

But after a few false starts, Annabelle’s deep into Harriet. Deep into the beginning, anyway. At curriculum night last week, her second grade teacher made a shocking announcement. The kids still have to read every night, just like in first grade, but they can read silently to themselves. I folded laundry tonight while Annabelle read, and truth be told, I sulked a little.

Still, it was so cool. When she was 15 minutes past her bedtime, I made an announcement; her hand shot up in protest. “Just let me finish this page!” she begged.

I obliged, of course. And now that she’s asleep and I’m done blogging, I might just snatch her copy (or grab one from my stash) and settle in for a good read.

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One Response to ““Harriet the Spy” and Other Joys of Motherhood”

  1. Don’t see The World According to Garp if you loved the book. Most of the John Irving movies suck.

    (Oh, Hi, by the way…)

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My Heart Can't Even Believe It: A Story of Science, Love, and Down Syndrome is available from Amazon and 
Changing Hands Bookstore
. For information about readings and other events, click here.
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