As I have been working through the Better Late Than Never workbook, writing as I answer memoir questions, it’s been interesting what snippets from my childhood have risen from my memories. Because of fond recollections about a favorite book from my early childhood, I located the picture book A Penny for Candy and purchased it.
Recently a series of books from my elementary school days has called to me as more memories surfaced. I loved the Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle books, written between 1947 and 1957, by Betty MacDonald. I was a voracious reader as a child, beginning on chapter books and classics at age five. However if I had to choose a favorite book, this enchanting series wins, hands down.
I’ve thought about Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle for days, curious about what drew me to her character and the collection of stories about her. I decided to find out by checking out two of the books, Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle and Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle’s Magic, from the children’s department in the Joplin Public Library.
Reading through these books, I’ve been charmed again by this lively ageless lady who lived in an upside down house with her dog Wag, and her cat, Lightfoot.
Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle, whose first name is never given, lives alone in her unconventional house, except for her pets. It’s established in the first chapter of the first book that Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle once had a husband, a pirate she claimed, who buried treasure in the backyard before he died.
Feeling a bit lonely one afternoon, as she sits down to tea, Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle spies a neighbor girl walking down the street, carrying a suitcase and crying. Mary Lou is running away because her mother makes her wash dishes every day, and she hates washing dishes. Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle invites Mary Lou in for tea. She teaches Mary Lou to use her imagination to create a fun game out of washing dishes, and the problem is solved. Mary Lou goes home and returns to Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle’s house for tea the next day, bringing a friend.
Soon Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle’s house and yard are filled with happy children who learn how to transform their least favorite chores into fun games. Parents begin to seek out Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle for help when their children misbehave. Never one to scold a child, this dear lady concocts magical potions or offers sage advice as cures. The four books in the series are the stories about those children and Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle’s interesting, funny cures, which by the way, always work.
There’s the Answer-Backer Cure, the Won’t-Pick-Up-Toys Cure, the Tattletale Cure and the Bad-Table-Manners Cure, to name a few. In all the cases, the children sort through their own misdeeds or bad habits, and decide to change. The stories, and illustrations by Hilary Knight, are indeed magical, to a child or an adult, and I smiled as I re-read the books.
As a child, my imagination was engaged by these stories. I appreciated Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle’s cleverness, her positive spirit and the playful way she interacted with kids and with life.
As an adult, I realize as I read through the books that Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle inadvertently became a role model for me. Even when I was a child, I couldn’t wait to grow up and have children of my own. I’ve always loved kids and find I can be more myself with them than with anyone else…more playful, more spontaneous, more imaginative.
In the second book in the series, Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle’s Magic, chapter one begins, “Of course the reason that all the children in our town like Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle is because Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle likes them. Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle likes children, she enjoys talking to them and best of all they do not irritate her.”
Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle doesn’t have a lot of rules in her house. She doesn’t berate or scold. She reframes everything in a positive way so that children are never shamed or ridiculed. And her cures are designed as paths of self discovery and self correction.
No wonder this fun woman was adored by children, including me. And no wonder I grew up to be a bit like Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle. I see children as beautiful amazing beings who possess imagination, creativity and a profound wisdom that they are very willing to share if we will just listen. I love how open children are, and how connected to spirit and themselves they are. They learn by playing and exploring and following curiosity. Children…my own, other people’s, my grandchildren…have been and continue to be my greatest teachers in life.
I appreciate these stories at a deeper level as I read. I view Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle from a different perspective, recognizing that she has had as great an influence on my life as she did on the children in her town. Yes, she is a fictional character. That doesn’t matter. I have been influenced by many incredible people who never literally walked the earth, but their journeys have had an impact on mine.
“So you can see that loving children the way she does, Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle just naturally understands them, even when they are being very difficult.”
Thank you Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle. May I continue to learn from you and carry on your legacy, loving children and understanding them.