A FEW OTHER EVENTS FOR
- Happy birthday Ursula K. Le Guin (A Wizard of Earthsea) and Ann Cameron (The Stories Julian Tells).
- Itâ€™s the birth date of Janet Ahlberg (1944 -1994), Each Peach Pear Plum, The Jolly Postman; and Samuel Taylor Coleridge (1772-1834), The Rime of the Ancient Mariner.
- Itâ€™s also the birth date of Alfred Nobel (1833â€“1896), who instituted the Nobel Prizes. Read The Man Behind the Peace Prize: Alfred Nobel by Kathy-Jo Wargin, illustrated by Zachary Pullen.
- Ferdinand Magellan discovers a channel of water between the Atlantic and Pacific oceans in 1520, now known as the Strait of Magellan in South America. Read To The Edge of the World by Michele Torrey and MVP: Magellan Voyage Project by Douglas Evans, illustrated by John Shelley.
- In 1879 Thomas Edison tests first practical electric lightbulb, which lasts 13.5 hours. Read The Lightbulb by Joseph Wallace, illustrated by Toby Wells.
- In 1921 President Warren G. Harding delivers a speech against lynching in the southern United States. Read A Wreath for Emmett Till by Marilyn Nelson, illustrated by Philippe Lardy.
- Itâ€™s Babbling Day. Itâ€™s also Count Your Buttons Day. Read Corduroy by Don Freeman.
On October 21, 1964, a book appeared that critics consider the beginning of modern fiction for children. Before that day, it had been controversial in its own publishing house, causing disagreement among the members of Harper & Rowâ€™s childrenâ€™s book department. The gatekeepers of childrenâ€™s books wanted to keep it out of the hands of children! After all, its protagonist wrote and said bad things about people, broke into New York City apartments, and didnâ€™t really change her ways over the course of the narrative. A bad childâ€”defiant to the end. She was called â€śone of the most fatiguing, ill-mannered children imaginable.â€ť
If you have guessed that the book of the day is Louise Fitzhughâ€™s Harriet the Spy, you are correct. If you read it in childhood, you will probably disagree with those gatekeepers. But Harriet was different from her peers, the characters in the books of the sixties, and she remains a quirky protagonist even for today. The book did not begin as a single volume, but as a series of diary entries by Harriet. Charlotte Zolotow and Ursula Nordstrom of Harper helped Fitzhugh flush out a full story. In essence, they used the Socratic Method, asking the author questions such as â€śWhy was Harriet angry?â€ť Then Fitzhugh would write a bit more narrative to answer that question, before Zolotow and Nordstrom would pose another question.
In the end, they helped her craft a book that children would love, and adults, for a short time, would hate. Susan Hirschman, who worked in the offices of Harper at the time, believed that Nordstrom, having set picture books on a different path by publishing Where the Wild Things Are, had decided that she was also going to change contemporary fiction. Certainly by the end of the sixties a new wave of realism had swept over childrenâ€™s books.
In the story eleven-year-old Harriet M. Welsch always carries a spy notebook and records her observations. Stuck with two of the most feckless parents in all of childrenâ€™s literature, young Harriet dresses like a spyâ€”dark hooded sweatshirt and blue jeansâ€”and eavesdrops in dumbwaiters or listens through doors. She writes brutally honest observations about her classmates. Unfortunately, her diary ends up being read by themâ€”and Harriet and her life begin to spin out of control. Any child who has ever felt a victim of cruelty can identify with Harriet.
After the publication of the book, children began forming spy clubs; they hid under tables in schools, taking notes. Harriet inspired many readers to think that they could dress or act differently than their peers. And, as Perri Klass writes in Everything I Need to Know I Learned from a Childrenâ€™s Book, decades of writers have learned from the book: â€śFrom Harriet the Spy I discovered the pleasure, even the addictive pleasure, of having a notebook and writing things down.â€ť
Happy birthday Harriet the Spy. You can celebrate with her by taking a virtual tour of her neighborhood.
Hereâ€™s a passage from Harriet the Spy:
Her spy clothes consisted first of all of an ancient pair of blue jeans, so old that her mother had forbidden her to wear them, but which Harriet loved because she had fixed up the belt with hooks to carry her spy tools. Her tools were a flashlight, in case she were ever out at night, which she never was, a leather pouch for her notebook, another leather case for extra pens, a water canteen, and a boy scout knife which had, among other features a screwdriver and a knife and fork which collapsed. She had never had occasion to eat anywhere, but someday it might come in handy.
Originally posted October 21, 2011. Updated for .