- Portrait of the Young Writer in Children's Fiction
Since all writers have had experiences as children that led them to the discovery that they wanted to write, it is surprising that in so few children's novels, do we find these experiences recorded. In several novels about the young writer, writing figures only tangentially in the protagonists' lives. In Over the Hills and Far A way, by Lavinia Russ,1 Peakie Maston ponders writing now and then, but just as casually ceases thinking about the subject. Enie Singleton in Mildred Lee's The Rock and the Web2 likes the sound of words and occasionally daydreams about writing as a possible career, but decides finally to put her creative energy into teaching, rather than writing. Norrie Ennis of Reach for the Dreams, by Mildred Lawrence,3 also talks of becoming a writer, but she never manages to put down on paper any of the stories she imagines. Tressy Beers of I , Tressy, by Norma Mazer,4 is talented enough to win a class contest for best story; but the journal she keeps, supposedly the means for sharpening Tressy's writing skills, becomes, instead, the therapy whereby she comes to accept her parents' marital difficulties.
Like Tressy, Harriet Welsch of Louise Fitzhugh's Harriet the Spy uses notebooks therapeutically to vent her frustrations and anger. She writes, "Description is good for the soul and clears the brain like a laxative."5 But for Harriet, who has announced her goal of becoming a writer, the various notebook jottings, the bits and pieces of realistic description and sometimes brutally honest commentary which highlight her journals, are the trial pieces of a developing sensibility, the preliminary stage in a young girl's learning the craft of writing. The first two entries show her keen awareness of the lives around her, her respect for her own perceptions, and her ability to record them.
MAN WITH ROLLED WHITE SOCKS, FAT LEGS. WOMAN WITH ONE CROSS-EYE AND A LONG NOSE. HORRIBLE LOOKING LITTLE BOY AND A FAT BLONDE MOTHER WHO KEEPS WIPING HIS [End Page 77] NOSE OFF. FUNNY LADY LOOKS LIKE A TEACHER AND IS READING. I DON'T THINK I'D LIKE TO LIVE WHERE ANY OF THESE PEOPLE LIVE OR DO THE THINGS THEY DO. I BET THAT LITTLE BOY IS SAD AND CRIES A LOT. I BET THAT LADY WITH THE CROSS-EYE LOOKS IN THE MIRROR AND JUST FEELS TERRIBLE. . . .
THIS IS INCREDIBLE. COULD OLD GOLLY HAVE A FAMILY? I NEVER THOUGHT ABOUT IT. HOW COULD OLE GOLLY HAVE A MOTHER AND FATHER? SHE'S TOO OLD FOR ONE THING AND SHE'S NEVER SAID ONE WORD ABOUT THEM AND I'VE KNOWN HER SINCE I WAS BORN. ALSO SHE DOESN'T GET ANY LETTERS. THINK ABOUT THIS. THIS MIGHT BE IMPORTANT.(p. 12)
Harriet knows she needs to write. Only by articulating her impressions and responses in writing can she fully understand them. Fitzhugh devotes a good part of Harriet the Spy to tracing the first steps in her becoming a writer. Harriet learns to imagine and to recognize significant detail. But what makes Fitzhugh's portrait of the young writer especially interesting is her assertion that Harriet needs more than these skills. She also needs to establish a positive self image and to emphathize with others.
Harriet's development as a writer is dramatically affected by a series of events that begin with the sudden departure of Ole Golly, her nurse, who, for all intents and purposes, has served as her mother. Harriet understands that Ole Golly must leave. Still, the nurse's actual departure precipitates a crisis in the girl's life.
I FEEL ALL THE SAME THINGS WHEN I DO THINGS ALONE AS WHEN OLE GOLLY WAS HERE. THE BATH FEELS HOT, THE BED FEELS SOFT, BUT I FEEL THERE'S A FUNNY LITTLE HOLE IN ME THAT WASN'T THERE BEFORE, LIKE A SPLINTER IN YOUR FINGER, BUT THIS IS SOMEWHERE ABOVE MY STOMACH.(p. 132) [End Page 78]
Shaken by her loss, Harriet becomes ornery and sets herself up to be rejected by her peers—by leaving her notebook where it...