the best friends you’ll never have

I vaguely remember the Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle series from my childhood. I took a lot of it in stride at the time, but upon reading a comment a while back on a post in The Toast‘s series “Children’s Stories Made Horrific,” I realized that these books were pretty messed up–letting your child get so dirty that you can plant radishes on their skin is disturbing, but I remember finding them fun.

So I thought that it was an interesting series to choose to bring back. Indeed, some of it reads as a bit odd now–Ann makes a note of saying that the town, now called Little Spring Valley, is unique because children are still allowed to run around by themselves. It’s a little strange in this day and age to read about children having group sleepovers at a childless stranger’s house. Minus the magic, it reminds me a lot of the Baby-Sitters Club–the parents in this town are all entirely clueless, and instead of trying to raise their own children, they call up someone else, who has no children, and leave the difficult parts of parenting to a stranger.

There is even a scene where Missy Piggle-Wiggle–the replacement for Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle, her niece, who seems to be in her 20s–conjures up out of thin air what can only be described as a Kid-Kit. So while I had originally thought that this series was maybe an odd fit for Ann, it makes a lot of sense. Stupid parents are Ann’s bread and butter.

I hadn’t read a Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle book in 20 years, so I checked out a few on Open Library to jog my memory. While Ann’s book relies heavily on the magic version of Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle–Missy has a chest of magical cures for bad behavior–the first book relies more on psychology, albeit in an exaggerated way. Basically, Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle uses reverse psychology, a la Stacey at the Delaneys’. If your children don’t want to sleep, let them stay up until they’re so tired and want to go to bed on time themselves, and so on. In subsequent books, she suddenly has access to magic, and uses “cures” as well. Ann has also combined Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle’s two living situations–she lives in the Upside-Down House on the farm, which is also somehow in town, and the Upside-Down House itself is now magical, and kind of a dick.

I would say that my main issue with the book is that the parents seem more helpless than they did in the originals. Whereas the parents would try to discipline their children and call up their friends for advice before turning to Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle in the original books, the parents are now basically checked out and figure Missy can do their parenting for them. There is a recurring family in the book whose three children all require separate cures for their behavioral issues, but it’s clear from the moment they’re introduced that the only real problem these children have is that their parents pay absolutely zero attention to them. On the other hand, there are two children, Della and Peony LaCarte, who are held up by other parents and even other children as paragons of excellent behavior throughout the book, although we never see them, and I have to wonder if the reason that these are the only children who can behave themselves is because they are the only children in Little Spring Valley with parents who give a shit.

That’s my main problem with this book–these parents are just like, well, the Stoneybrook parents who needed 13-year-old girls to raise their kids.

Should you check it out? If you really enjoyed Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle as a child, or are an Ann completist–then yes. Is this book going to appeal to 2016 children? I’m not sure.

Ann Pop Culture Reference:

  • No Wizard of Oz/I Love Lucy/etc., but for some reason, she does have a child watch Paul Blart: Mall Cop, which makes me think that Ann had to search far and wide for an example of a terrible movie.
  • She does namedrop her favorite children’s books though, but it seems almost fitting for a reboot of a 40s/50s series, so I’ll let it slide.
  • I’ve been meaning to write a post about the 30th anniversary and all of the interviews and such that she’s done for that, but in the meantime, her new Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle book came out yesterday, and I’ll have a review for that once I read it.

    But also, today on my Facebook, a friend of mine reposted something from Autostraddle declaring that Ann is officially queer. Those of us in the community have known this forever–really, it was clear to me from Ann’s crazy Margot Kidder R. biography that so explicitly did not mention any kind of romance in her life–but the interview in Vulture quoted in the Autostraddle piece handles it this way:

    With her partner at the time, Laura Godwin (they’ve since broken up), she wrote four Doll People books, tales of what a child’s doll collection does when no one’s watching.

    We knew all this, of course, except for the fact that Ann and Laura broke up, since that’s not the kind of news that makes Page Six, but it’s just nice to see that she can, in her own shy way, let us into her personal life a little bit. I haven’t read any of the other pieces on her done in the honor of the 30th anniversary, since I wasn’t going to do it until I started writing about it, but as far as I know, this is the first time she’s revealed anything about her past relationships or anything like that. So, yay Ann, and I’ll let you know how I feel about this Piggle-Wiggle book.

    I got an email from my hosting company last weekend, telling me that the database for the wiki was too big and I needed to fix in two days or all of my sites would be taken offline.

    Fixing it required using things like MySQL and SSH, which are a little outside my comfort zone. I considered just deleting the wiki altogether. I didn’t want to lose my other sites and projects. But I thought about how much work had been put into it, and not only my own. So I learned what I had to learn, and the wiki, and the rest of my sites, are still up.

    The wiki is kind of a failure on my part, I admit. The MediaWiki software is complex, and we were kind of killed by a spam attack, to the point that another BSC wiki site sprung up in its place. Completing it so that it was the wiki I want would take up too much time that I, as someone who makes most of her money through freelancing, can dedicate to it at this point in my life.

    But still I wish it had accomplished my goal as a Complete Guide for the entire series. This will probably never happen now, but I’m still not going to delete it and completely destroy any possibility of that happening.

    Most readers of this blog already know that Peter Lerangis wrote movie novelizations, including the one for the BSC movie, under the pseudonym A. L. Singer. “A. L. Singer,” of course, is an anagram for “Lerangis.”

    What I’m about to say may shock you, but it’s perfectly logical. Take the “s” in “Singer” and move it to the front, and what do you get? “S. A. L. Inger.”

    Clearly, “Peter L.” has been hiding something from us all along. Lerangis is no Greek last name. It’s a clever anagram for Jerome David’s Peter’s true identity.

    J. D. Salinger stopped publishing after Raise High the Roof Beam, Carpenters/Seymour: An Introduction. But we know that he never stopped writing. Most assume that the work he did after withdrawing from the publishing world is kept in a safe somewhere, probably on his property in New Hampshire. But what if he did publish, perhaps stories about the Glass family with names and identifying details changed, and we just didn’t notice? What if he gave them titles like Jessi’s Big Break, about Franny’s brief time in a ballet company, or Logan Bruno, Boy Baby-Sitter, about Zooey dealing with bullies in Hollywood who want him to sell out?

    You may scoff and say, “Salinger is dead; Lerangis is still alive. He tweets all the time and goes on book tours.” I don’t need 39 clues to tell me that Salinger was extremely interested in longevity and could easily fake his death and pay someone to act as “Peter Lerangis” and go on book tours.

    For a writer who just wants to practice his craft and have people read his work without having to deal with angsty teenage fans and grad students who come to Cornish, NH to catch a glimpse of him, middle-grade series novelist is the perfect cover. No one would ever think to make the connection. Plus, both men were interested in theater in their youth. Clearly that’s a sign that the anagram is no coincidence and that they are, in fact, the same person.

    Besides, Thomas Pynchon is still alive.

    You may have noticed that it’s been silent around here for quite some time, and if you know me from the Baby-Sitters Club Boards, I haven’t been around much there, either.

    Which brings me to the central question of this post. I am now almost 30, closer to the age that Kristy thinks women should stop wearing bikinis that I am to middle school, closer in age to the clients’ parents than the sitters themselves. When I started reading the series, I was younger than many of the clients.

    I still actively read the books when I can. But after around 15+ years in this fandom, I’m not sure that I have all that much left to discuss. I’ve had this site for so long that even when I feel like I have something to say, I can look in my archives and see that I covered that topic already. And snarking the books isn’t really my thing either; a lot of things that others take issue with just don’t bug me, and a lot of the time, it ends up feeling kind of mean-spirited and shouty rather than funny.

    So I’m not sure where that leaves this site at the moment. I have been dedicating my time to other projects. I do think I will review Ann’s Mrs Piggle-Wiggle and whatever other new books she comes out with. I actually started writing a post about that with other properties she could retool, but I never finished it. I will also maybe write more about non-BSC children’s books. So I think at this point, it will either be an intermittenly updated BSC/Ann blog, or a more frequently updated blog about the kidlit of my youth in general.

    Thanks to all of you who still read this, despite my lack of updates :)

  • The TV series is leaving Netflix on June 30th. It is still available in the iTunes store, though, so don’t worry if you no longer have a VCR and you don’t feel like frantically bingeing on the whole thing before then. It’s also on Amazon Instant Video–not sure about Google Play.
  • The Toast/The Butter put up two articles about the BSC: Literary Ladies Cage Fight: SVH vs the BSC and Ayn Rand’s The Baby-Sitters Club.
  • The color graphic novel version of KGI is definitely in stores all over the US and Canada now, so pick yours up! I’ve heard on the grapevine that it’s selling well.
  • Out now on ebook: #99-#102
  • A full-color edition of KGI by Raina Telgemeier is coming out on Tuesday, and it will be available in hardcover, paperback, AND ebook versions. Two of my Canadian BSC friends already found the books in local stores, so if you’re in Canada, it looks like you can already get it.
  • I have written about Beverly Cleary before. One thing I have meant to blog about for a long time, and somehow never got around to doing, is Beverly Cleary’s First Love series, a quartet of YA (for the time) novels written in the ’50s and ’60s.

    Beverly Cleary is now 99, and in her most recent interviews, from the time of her 95th birthday, she is asked how her work has managed to stay relevant and popular for so long. She answers, “I think [it has remained popular] because I have stayed true to my own memories of childhood, which are not different in many ways from those of children today. Although their circumstances have changed, I don’t think children’s inner feelings have changed.”

    If you read her young adult books, I think this still holds true. She remains very true to the emotions of what it’s like to be fifteen and sixteen, and to enter the world of relationships for the first time. Now, I think some people might be under the impression that kids today grow up faster, but since the early ’90s, teen pregnancy has decreased and teenagers are waiting longer to have sex as a whole. While there have always been the Staceys who have tons of boyfriends in middle school, if you’re reading this blog, you were probably on the nerdy side and most likely didn’t attract any interest in that way until you were 15 or 16, like the girls in this series.

    I recommend all of these books, each of which explores an aspect of “first love,” as the series’ title might suggest. (I’m not sure if they were originally written as part of a series, or if later publishers/editors have just decided to package them this way.) Fifteen deals with self-esteem and being yourself around guys, and not acting like some bitch who presents herself as sophisticated. The Luckiest Girl is about understanding the difference between being in love and being in love with idea of someone, as well as the complexities of the mother/daughter relationship. Sister of the Bride may be the one that seems the most out of date, somehow, but it contains the themes of generational differences and what marriage is in reality vs. fantasy. It also contains the important lesson of, “if you need to bake cookies every day to keep a boy coming around, don’t bother.” Another interesting thing in Sister, which I absolutely would have never known if I hadn’t read this book, was that at the time of publication (1963), it was considered that young people were getting married younger than ever. I had always assumed that this was a demographic trend that went steadily up with time, not up and down.

    Anyway, Jean and Johnny, for me, is the one that really feels the most real, the one where there are scenes that are hard to read because I just cringe with secondhand embarrassment and recognition. Jean is helping set up decorations at a lodge where there is a dance going on. She is asked to dance for the first time in her life by a very cute older boy, who also happens to go to her school, the titular Johnny. It may seem reminiscent of Dawn and the Older Boy, but it is far more realistic and relatable. (Travis’s motive has never made sense to me.) She acts the way many girls with a crush do, and she tries to sneakily track information down on him and see him at school when she thinks he’s not looking. He does start to notice her, and pay attention to her, but, as her family says, she shouldn’t accept crumbs from a boy like Johnny.

    I think it’s a book about how you move through stages in adolescence, sometimes rapidly. In the beginning, both Jean and her best friend, Elaine, have crushes on Kip Laddish, a teen idol with a weekly TV show. As the story progresses, Jean moves onto her crush on Johnny, leaving Elaine behind. At the same time, Jean’s older sister, Sue, has moved beyond crushes like Jean’s on Johnny, which was really not that much more based in reality than Jean’s crush on Kip, to a dating a guy whom she may well marry. Despite the things that may date the book, like sewing being a class that a high school girl would take, it all rings as very true and universal. In her memoirs, Cleary mentions a professor she had in college who stated that the proper subject for the novel is the universal human experience, and Cleary just nails that so well. The feelings and experiences in these books feel universal, even if the particulars of your own experience are different.

    The relationships in the BSC, in contrast, have always seemed flat to me. They are simply adult relationships, minus sex. I don’t think there’s ever been a person in the world who has said, “My eighth-grade boyfriend was just like Logan Bruno!” It is just as much fantasy as Middle Earth is in Lord of the Rings. At 28, I still don’t feel like I’m reading about middle schoolers. They seem to conduct themselves like my peers.

    In Beverly Cleary’s books, it’s like going back in time, and not just in the sense that these books were written 50, 60 years ago. She conjures up exactly what it is like to be that age, and to have a boy like you for the first time, and to go on your first awkward dates. I STILL feel like I’m not as mature and adult as the BSC, and over twenty years has passed since I read Kristy’s Great Idea for the first time.

    Part of it is, I think, the way middle-grade/YA books are written. Middle-grade books are written for an audience that is younger than the people who feature in the stories, and same with YA. The world they depict is just as much a fantasy for their readership as the world of actual fantasy books are. BSC definitely presents a fantasy–a world of fancy vacations, mysteries, independence from adults, and mature, yet sexless, relationships.

    Jean and Johnny, the other First Love books, and really all of Cleary’s other books (besides the mouse ones) are firmly grounded in truth and the universal human experience. They are books about the emotions and experiences that accompany our lives as we grow and mature. The relationships in the BSC are presented in a way that is unrealistic because everything is unrealistic, and that is what is appealing about them. The relationships in these four books are presented in a realistic way that rings true, and that is what makes them enduring.

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