Ivy Allie

A Cavalcade of Covers

Harriet the Spy

Posted 20 Jul 2019

Harriet the Spy, as a book illustrated by its author, has has fewer cover designs than most of the titles we’ve looked at in this series. But of course there is still no shortage of them, and they run the gamut from the appropriate to the absurd. Let’s take a closer look!

Harriet the Spy, anniversary edition cover

This is a reprint of the first edition cover. Many covers have featured this illustration, Fitzhugh’s depiction of a businesslike Harriet marching through a seedy part of town. It really is a wonderful encapsulation of her character. Also note at the bottom of the cover, where there is a glowing quote from Jonathan Goddamn Franzen.

Rating: 10/10

Harriet the Spy, Fitzhugh variant cover

This is the edition I had as a kid. Obviously it’s the same illustration as the first, although much of it has been cropped out, which is rather a shame. (Interestingly, though, it also reveals some portions which were erased in the original.) But all that aside, I’m quite amused by the delightfully misleading tagline “The Zany Adventures of a Child Spy.” Zany is hardly the word I’d apply to this brutally realistic story.

Rating: 6/10

Harriet the Spy, Fitzhugh variant cover

A composite cover that includes three illustrations from inside the book. It’s OK, I guess. I think it would have been more effective if they’d chosen just one.

Rating: 5/10

Harriet the Spy, featuring cats

Here’s an odd cover from the seventies, created by someone who clearly just wanted to draw some cats. Well, at least they’re cute cats!

Rating: 7/10

Harriet the Spy, dumbwaiter cover

I think this cover is supposed to depict the episode in which Harriet is caught while spying from the dumbwaiter, although it’s hard to tell from this poor reproduction. (I couldn’t find a better scan, though I did try.) There’s nothing wrong with the illustration, but the overall presentation seems to a imply a far more juvenile kind of story, the sort where a gang of plucky tweens hatch a wacky plot to embarrass the mean teacher.

Rating: 4/10

Harriet the Spy, fence cover

This is probably my favorite non-Fitzhugh cover. The look of intense concentration on Harriet’s face is perfect, and I love the utilitarian, no-nonsense interpretation of her spying outfit. I also like that her overall look is sort of androgynous. A lot of these covers make her look really “girly,” and I don’t think that fits the character very well.

That type is hurting my eyes, though.

Rating: 9/10

Harriet the Spy, pigtails cover

Speaking of the more girly approach, here is 90’s Harriet: bangs, pigtails, and all! Also, she looks extremely young to me.

I also take issue with this one’s tagline: “The most famous sleuth of all!” No, guys. You’re thinking of Sherlock Holmes, or possibly Nancy Drew. A sleuth is someone who solves mysteries. Harriet does not solve any mysteries in this book, nor does she try to.

Final note: Don’t miss the fact that she has a squirrel friend just above her head. Coming soon: an animated Harriet the Spy musical with a talking animal buddy? One can only hope!

Rating: 2/10

Harriet the Spy, photographic cover

More bangs and pigtails, but I do like the intense, accusatory gaze of the model in this otherwise very bland photographic cover.

Rating: 3/10

Harriet the Spy, clipart-looking cover

Good god, why is there so much bad vector art in circulation? If not for the binoculars I’d have thought this was just a clipart image titled “cool schoolteacher.”

Rating: 1/10

Harriet the Spy, modern style cover

If you must modernize the cover, I like this approach much better. The illustrative approach is very nice, as are the colors. The more I look at it, though, the more I’m having trouble seeing it as anything other than a 15-foot-tall Harriet.

Rating: 6/10

Harriet the Spy, a painted cover

Another pretty good painted cover. The awkward posture and intense gaze are spot-on.

Rating: 7/10

Harriet the Spy, another photographic cover

I wish I could find a better image of this one. It’s kind of a cute picture, but…does that kid look 11 years old to you?

Rating: 3/10

Harriet the Spy, a teaching aid

One thing I’ve learned from this series is that you can always find a teaching aid with a weird cover if you go looking for it. This is clearly the work of an amateur artist, but I think it actually functions better than a lot of the others we’ve seen here. For one thing, it acknowledges that the story takes place in New York City, a fact which few of the other artists seem to even be aware of.

Rating: 4/10

Harriet the Spy, the movie

OK, nineties kids, I know you wouldn’t be satisfied if this didn’t appear on here. She’s on your case! I don’t think I ever actually saw this movie, at least not in its entirety. Can we move on now?

Rating: 2/10

Harriet the Spy, the other movie

You maniacs! You blew it up! God damn you! God damn you all to hell!