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: