Wednesday, August 09, 2017

Introducing "Missy Piggle-Wiggle and the Won't-Walk-the-Dog Cure," Plus an Exclusive Interview with Series Creator Annie Parnell!

When I was a child, I absolutely loved a series of books created by Betty MacDonald about a colorful character named Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle. The original five books in the Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle series were published between 1974 and 2007 and sold millions of copies worldwide. Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle lived in an upside-down house in a neighborhood filled with children. Although she had no children of her own, Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle helped parents cure their kids of bad habits thanks to a chest full of magical cures left to her by her husband, Mr. Piggle-Wiggle, who was a pirate.

I always found such humor in the name of the cures and Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle's methods of conducting them. For example, the Won't-Pick-Up-Toys Cure helped a messy boy by allowing him to have his way and continue leaving his toys scattered about his room. Eventually, his room became so cluttered that he was trapped inside! Needless to say, the boy soon saw the wisdom in keeping his room neat. The cure I remember most vividly was the Won't-Take-a-Bath Cure. Naturally, it was administered to a child who refused to bathe. Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle advised the parents to let their daughter get as dirty as she pleased, and when she had a good layer of dirt on her skin, they planted radish seeds in the dirt while she slept! Once the girl started sprouting radish plants, she finally decided that a daily bath might be a good idea after all.

Because of my love for Betty MacDonald's books, I was thrilled to hear that her great-granddaughter, Annie Parnell, has joined forces with New York Times bestselling children's author Ann M. Martin (The Baby-Sitter's Club series) to create a modern-day version of the original series. In this new series, young Missy Piggle-Wiggle steps into her great-aunt Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle's enchanted shoes to help cure the neighborhood kids of their bad habits. Last year, they published the hugely popular Missy Piggle-Wiggle and the Whatever Cure, and this September, they are releasing a new book in the series: Missy Piggle-Wiggle and the Won't-Walk-the-Dog Cure. I received an Advance Reader's Edition of the book, and I found it to be just as enjoyable as the original series. Fortunately, Missy Piggle-Wiggle inherited her great-aunt's wonderful wisdom and way with children, and continues to help them overcome bad habits through cures with names like The Smarty-Pants Cure, The Whiny-Whiners Cure, The Woe-Is-Me Cure and, of course, The Won't-Walk-the-Dog Cure. Also in this book, Missy has the job of trying to renovate the upside-down house after a storm causes some major damage!

Growing up, Annie Parnell never imagined she would one day become a writer -- that job had already been taken by her great-grandmother, Betty MacDonald. But in my exclusive interview below, you'll learn more about how she ultimately decided that her great-grandmother's genius needed to be passed on to new generations of kids and their parents. In addition to creating this series, Parnell is a wife, mother to Will and Elsie, and an avid photographer.

My Interview with Annie Parnell!

I absolutely loved the Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle books as a child. I was always amazed by the clever solutions that author Betty MacDonald came up with to cure children’s bad habits, like planting seeds in the dirt that had accumulated on a child’s skin who refused to bathe! Where do you get your ideas for clever cures in your new series?

First of all, I need to tell you how much I enjoy hearing from people who loved the original series as a child. Betty being my great-grandmother isn’t exactly something I bring up in everyday conversation, but on the occasion it does come up, I am almost always greeted by the most delightful reactions. So many people loved these books, and I can’t tell you how pleased I am to be a part of bringing this world to an entirely new generation of children.

Being a mom of school-aged kids, there is never a shortage of material to choose from. Whether it’s my own children or a friend’s, I frequently find myself jotting down their little nuisance behaviors and then crafting “cures” for them. I share those cures with Ann M. Martin as she starts ramping up into the outline process, and she uses the ones she connects with and always has some of her own to add as well.

Did you read your great-grandmother’s Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle books as a child? What is your favorite Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle story?

My mom read all the stories to me as a child, a few in particular (whether it was because she was trying to get a message across or because I loved them so much) got lots and lots of retellings. The Won’t-Pick-Up-Toys Cure was an absolute favorite for both of us -- Hubert Prentiss and I had a real bond of slovenliness, and sure enough, getting sick of my own mess was ultimately the best cure.

How did you come up with the idea for this new series and team up with co-author Ann M. Martin to write these books?

Before my son was born, I worked in television for the better part of a decade. I always thought the original series would make a great animated TV series, but there were some structural hiccups in the storytelling that made it difficult to translate. However, once I had my own children, I started to see how important this series was to parents as well as kids, and I also saw a way in which the stories could be re-crafted to make them more translatable to the screen. After talking to a lot of very smart people, and getting the blessing of my family, I decided to do a new series of books. There were enough changes being made to the world (modernizing it, setting more of it in the Upside Down House, etc) that I didn’t want to re-invent Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle, because she’s perfect just the way she is. So I decided on a younger version of her via her great-niece. I crafted up a proposal which Jean Feiwel read and ultimately pitched bringing Ann in to write. From there, the details of who Missy is and how she interacts with the world went through a number of iterations, but I’m really really happy with where we ended up. I think she embodies all that was great about Mrs. Piggle Wiggle, but gives us the leeway to stretch our storytelling legs and dig a little more deeply into this great world.

You’re a mother of two. Have you tried any of Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle’s or Missy Piggle-Wiggle’s cures on your children? (Or did your mother try them on you?) What was the result?

In a way, yes. I’m not planting radish seeds on my kids when they sleep, but I do feel that humor and compassion are just as important as consequences and follow-through when it comes to eliciting a change in our kids' behavior. So much of what makes both Missy and Mrs. Piggle Wiggle great at what they do is that they never treat the children as though they are bad or defective. They understand that kids are going to get in trouble, and that it is our job to help them be better, not to make them feel bad about it. Kids test boundaries and seek attention (positive or negative), and the more we, as parents, can empathize with them while still demanding the very best from them, the more effective we can be.

My kids understand that things like screen time are a luxury that is earned, not a given, and the more responsible they are (their rooms are clean, beds made, homework done, etc), the more flexible I am with their rewards. However, from time to time, too much screen time makes them cranky and rude, so every now and then we will take screen breaks (sometimes for days, sometimes for weeks). I’m not going to tell you they’re happy about it, but at this point they’ve been through it enough times to know they’ll survive it. The first day or so, they are bored and oh so very pitiful, but I happily offer up some super helpful things they can do around the house to cure their boredom (aka chores), and magically they manage to find activities to entertain themselves, and, more importantly, they often look to each other to cure their boredom. Typically, after a week, they are downright pleasant to each other, and we have a nice talk about what was good about the break and how we can continue that into our re-screened lives.

I always loved that Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle allowed kids to learn from their mistakes rather than through strict discipline. It seems like parents can learn a lot from Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle and her niece, Missy. Would you agree?

One. Hundred. Percent.

When I talk about how important this series is to parents as well as kids, much of that statement is rooted in just how much great parenting advice can be found in these cures. Betty was so far ahead of her time, preaching much of what is found in the very best parenting books of today. Things like natural consequences and positive discipline can be found throughout the Piggle-Wiggle universe. There is absolutely a time and place for strict discipline, but I personally feel that it is used all together too often, and ultimately that overuse dulls its effectiveness, demanding steeper and steeper consequences. Kids are smart and want to please their parents, but they are also in a constant search for boundaries and self-awareness, which are ever changing as they grow older. My goal with my kids is not to make them obedient rule followers, but rather to make them kids who want to understand the rules and why they are important (and even sometimes when they are not so important). A big part of that is understanding rewards and consequences, and including them in their decision-making processes. I think these books can be a fun and effective avenue for beginning a dialogue with our kids about building these essential life skills.

From Susan: A big thank-you to Annie Parnell for this wonderful interview, and for bringing so much joy to a new generation of kids and parents with her Missy Piggle-Wiggle books! I hope you'll pick up a copy of Missy Piggle-Wiggle and the Won't-Walk-the-Dog Cure to read with your family!

Disclosure: I received a complimentary Advance Reader's Edition of this book to facilitate my honest review. This post contains my Amazon affiliate link, and I will receive a small commission on purchases made through my link.


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