Friday, December 29, 2017

Mrs. Piggle Wiggle books by Betty MacDonald

Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle (1947).  Mrs. Piggle -Wiggle’s Magic (1949). Hello Mrs. Piggle -Wiggle (1957) all illustrated by HIlary Knight; Mrs. Piggle -Wiggle’s Farm (1954) illustrated by Maurice Sendak.

Baby Boomers
I read all four Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle books in a row right around Christmas.  I have to admit, by the end, I was Piggle-Wiggle’d out.  I loved these books back in the day, and would check them out from the library all the time.  When the library was giving away old weeded copies of books they didn’t want anymore, we got to choose some to take home and I have an ancient copy of Hello Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle somewhere in my house.

Good old Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle:  when I was eight or nine or ten, she seemed safe, warm, and comforting, like the steaming hot cocoa and gingerbread that always seems to be being served by various mothers or Mrs. P-W herself throughout these four books.  My poor mother:  after I read these books, I fantasized constantly to be met at the door after school with brownies or cookies, just like the kids in the books always are in the first few pages of every chapter.  I even occasionally asked my mom to do this.  It never happened.

These bitches
Reading Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle as an adult is a far different experience.  The books still have some charm to them - I still love some of the chapters ("The Crybaby Cure" and "The Whisperers" are two I remember fondly).  But the Piggle-Wiggle world is definitely strange.  The dads all work while the moms are all housewives, and the families are all huge baby boomer households. There is only one single parent in the whole book - Cornelia Whitehouse's mother, who works in a factory. Everyone (except see above) are comfortably middle class.  Everyone is white.  If there are kids of color, they all live in some other town (or perhaps their parents don't need Mrs. P-W's help).  These parents are pretty trusting of these non-FDA approved cures as well.

Owl by Maurice Sendak
One thing that is lovely about the Mrs Piggle-Wiggle books are the illustrations: three books are illustrated by Hilary Knight; one book by Maurice Sendak.  The illustrations are charming; in addition to all the mentions of warm gingerbread, it was the illustrations that kept me coming back. 

The other thing I've always loved about Piggle-Wiggle world were the names.  With these giant baby boomer families, Betty MacDonald always had to be coming up with a multitude of names.  I can remember as kid being eager to read the next set of names:  Nicholas Semicolon; Roscoe Eager; Fetlock; Cornell and Harvard Foxglove; Evelyn Crackle... I could go on forever!  She must have loved coming up with these names.
Love this Sendak illustration  I'm also a "can't find it"

Fetlock Harroway, my favorite geek.  He made billions from a .com in the 1990s, and now lives on his own island in the South Pacific.  That Sendak dog is full of sass.

Knight's Piggle-Wiggle and her
non-FDA approved cupboard

Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle (Mrs. Piggle Wiggle, #1)Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle by Betty MacDonald
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

It’s 1947: the war has been won by the good guys, the depression was over, everyone was rich and had a big car, families were gigantic, no one was ethnic (at least in this part of town), and moms must have been worried sick about raising their kids the All American Right Way. In steps Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle with all sorts of amazing cures for selfishness, not going to bed, not picking up toys, not bathing (my favorite story in the whole bunch). Voila - problem solved! The mothers can go back to their housework and garden clubs, the dads back to work and golf, rest assured that their little angels are now perfect. Until the Beatles, Vietnam, and the summer of love... but that’s all the future. For now, all was well.

Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle's Magic (Mrs. Piggle Wiggle, #2)Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle's Magic by Betty MacDonald
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

In the Piggle-Wiggle world, there is a magic cure for everything: interrupting, bad table manners, not wanting to go to school, and all the moms (and occasional dads) can rest at ease knowing she’s there to take the tough cases out of their hands.

View all my reviews

My rating: 3 of 5 stars
I sat down and read all four Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle books in one fell 2 day or so swoop. Take aways: 1. All the children in Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle grew up to be hippies, went to Vietnam, danced disco, got rich in the 1980s, went through tech bubbles and real estate booms, and now are retiring en mass. 2. Hilary Knight and Maurice Sendak are equally good illustrators, and their envisioning of Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle herself are totally different, but both versions smell like gingerbread and are very huggable. 3. There were no children of color in any of the Piggle-Wiggle books, which bothered me now, and did not bother me when I was 8. 4. Betty MacDonald must have a shit ton of fun coming up with all of these names; some are pure baby boomer (Molly, Susan, Linda, Dick) and some are just delightful (Fetlock, Percy Penzil, Morton Heatherwick). 

My rating: 3 of 5 stars
Father may have known best on television in the 1950s, but it’s Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle all of these mothers turned to way back when. She had a funny, magical cure for crybabies, gossips, bullies and other assorted childhood “ailments.” 

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