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Literature / Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle

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A series of books by Betty McDonald about a small old lady who lives in an upside-down house. She spends her time curing children's bad habits with magical cures left by her dead husband. A light-hearted critique of modern parenting with two sets of Aesops, one for children about the fact there are consequences to their actions and one for parents about how it's important to let their children learn these things for themselves.


The stories were originally bedtime-stories she told to her daughters (Annie and Joan—see "The Fighter-Quarrelers Cure") and later her nieces/nephews and still later to her grandchildren. This accounts for some of the inconsistencies. (Some 'cures' being simple reverse psychology, others having an element of magic or fantasy.)

In 1994 the books were adapted into a short-lived TV series starring Jean Stapleton in the title role.

In 2016, a new spin-off of the series, titled Missy Piggle-Wiggle and the Whatever Cure was released, featuring Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle's spunky niece Missy Piggle-Wiggle, written by Ann M. Martin and Annie Parnell, with illustrations by Ben Hatke. Following the success of this first book in the new series, a second, titled Missy Piggle-Wiggle and the Won't-Walk-the-Dog Cure was released on September 5, 2017. A third title, Missy Piggle-Wiggle and the Sticky-Fingers Cure, was released on September 4, 2018.


This series has examples of:

  • Aesoptinum
  • Applied Phlebotinum: Various magic cures.
  • Because I Said So: Deconstructed. All it teaches children is that their parents don't actually have reasons for saying what they do (since they can't produce those reasons when challenged), and so when the parent actually is trying to impart an important life lesson, their kid isn't going to listen to them.
  • Bizarrchitecture: All but one of the books have Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle living in an upside-down house, designed and built by Mr. Piggle-Wiggle. She literally walks up upside-down stairs while living in it. Missy Piggle-Wiggle assumes control of the house in the Missy Piggle-Wiggle books, though in The Sticky-Fingers Cure, it ends up being a right side up house for several weeks due to an unusual illness known as the "Winter Effluvia."
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  • Celibate Hero: Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle is never mentioned as being so much as interested in other men after the death of her husband. And in Missy Piggle-Wiggle and the Whatever Cure, in which he's not dead, she sets off on a journey to find him after he goes missing. By the time of The Sticky-Fingers Cure, she's found him and the two have set off on a world tour together.
  • Cloud Cuckoolander: Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle is a bit weird with her house and animal companions. Her husband is hinted to have been a weirdo of a pirate as well.
  • Cool House: It's literally upside-down!
  • Cool Old Lady: Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle.
  • Early Installment Weirdness
    • In the first book, the cures Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle recommended were realistic, if comically exaggerated, and generally involved reverse psychology; in later books, all the cures had a magical element to them.
    • Missy Piggle-Wiggle mixes things up a bit. Most of the cures involve a magical element, but one or two are just reverse psychology sort of stuff.
  • 555: In Missy Piggle-Wiggle and the Sticky-Fingers Cure, Penelope the parrot recites the advertising jingle "''Call five-five-five-two-two-three-oh, and see your dentist now. Say goodbye to cavities!" while under the influence of a magical illness known as the Winter Effluvia.
  • Free-Range Children: In addition to the time period, allowing children to discover how the world works for themselves, providing help instead of controlling them, is a major theme.
  • Friend to All Children
    • Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle loves kids and really understands them.
    • Missy Piggle-Wiggle is equally good with children. Not long after she arrives to take charge of the upside-down house, the house is soon humming with children who come over regularly to hang out or play.
  • Heel Realization: A few stories feature parents realizing that their own indulgence and poor parenting has made their children turn out bad. A prime example is "The Bully": Mrs. Semicolon praises her son Nick for being bigger and stronger than other children, never once considering that he's using that size and strength to hurt them. When Nick uses a pair of heavy workboots to seriously harm another boy, Mrs. Semicolon blames her husband for letting their son wear them, prompting Mr. Semicolon to point out that Nick was the one who kicked the child, not the shoes.
  • Hidden Supplies: Mr. Piggle-Wiggle hid his fortune—gold, silver, cash, and jewels—in all kinds of secret places around Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle's house, such as a drawer behind another drawer or a cubbyhole in the attic. In general, Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle spends what she needs; when it begins to run low, she searches for another stash.
  • Homemade Sweater from Hell: Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle always accepts hand-made gifts from the children (sweaters, cookies, etc.) no matter how awfully made or tacky with genuine joy and gratitude.
  • Local Hangout: All the kids keep coming to Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle's house and the same becomes true once Missy Piggle-Wiggle takes over as well.
  • Have a Gay Old Time: Mrs. Piggle Wiggle's cure for the selfish Dick is to have his label all of his items like "Dick's book. Don't touch." One of his classmates mocks this by putting a sign on his back that says "This is Dick. Don't touch."
  • Meaningful Name:
    • Dick Thompson in "The Selfish Boy Cure", at least before his redemption.
    • Missy Piggle-Wiggle has a group of children with the last name of Freeforall who are, collectively, the Freeforalls. Each of them has their own particular brand of awful behavior until Missy Piggle-Wiggle deals with them.
    • Lampshaded in Missy Piggle-Wiggle and the Sticky-Fingers Cure in which it's noted that in the Motormouth family, Gabriel "Gabby" Motormouth is the only member of the family who actually is a motormouth, or at least is until Missy Piggle-Wiggle cures him.
  • Messy Pig: Inverted. Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle has a pig named Lester. He doesn't speak, but he does help kids with bad table manners by setting a good example. He's clean, tidy, and smart.
  • Necessary Evil: Well, "evil" is too strong a word, but some of Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle's cures are terrifyingly extreme—using a magic tonic to make a child incredibly stupid (to the point where he's having emotional breakdowns), exhausting children by letting them stay up all night, "forgetting" to feed a child and leaving her out all night...granted, she never goes too far, but her remedies are still somewhat unsettling. However, they prove to be just what the doctor ordered in terms of fixing bad habits.
  • Nice Job Breaking It, Hero!: Many of the cures are only necessary because the parents actively let it get to that point, through either overindulging a child or trying to be too controlling in general. If Herbert Prentiss's mother hadn't kept caving and cleaning up his room for him, Herbert would have discovered years ago that if he didn't want to step on blocks and wanted a place to sleep, he'd better clean it up. In other cases, the parents undermined their own authority by using Because I Said So in place of actual reasons, so their children simply don't listen to them anymore because it seems like they don't know what they're talking about. Generally, Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle is the last resort: only a few consult an expert when a problem comes up.
    • In one case, where constantly interrupting children are given magical powder that makes them fall silent whenever they begin to interrupt, they point out that their parents interrupt all the time too. They all take the powder and Hilarity Ensues.
    • A more localized incident appears in Lester's first story. The mother of the boy who Lester is teaching unthinkingly serves pork chops for dinner and Lester quickly goes green when he realizes just what he ate though good manners prevent him from allowing his discomfort to be known. Then the boy comes downstairs the next day to his mother making bacon and promptly scolds her for being so rude to Lester. She's horrified when her son points out the problem and quickly sends her husband the bacon, airs out the kitchen to get rid of the smell, and prepares an alternate breakfast for her son and Lester.
  • No Ending: Some of the stories fail to illustrate how the children have learned from and grown past their cures, with the assumption that they stopped the cure and kept the improvements like always, but the lack of conclusion has the accidental implication that the children were permanently altered instead.
  • Not Good with People : Played with. Although Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle will happily discuss the children's problems over the phone when the parents call, she does not invite adult guests over or socialize with them like she does with the neighborhood kids, saying adults make her nervous. (This would be considered creepy today.)
  • The Pig Pen: Patsy
  • Pirate: Mr. Piggle-Wiggle was a pirate... who left behind his treasure map and a treasure chest full of magical cures.
  • A Pirate 400 Years Too Late: Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle's deceased husband was a pirate when he was alive, and the story takes place in The '50s.
  • Radish Cure: The Trope Namer and the usual method by which Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle's cures work.
  • Reverse Psychology: Some of the cures. For example, the Never-Want-To-Go-To-Bedders cure involves letting the children stay up all night, and the Won't-Pick-Up-Toys treatment is letting the room get as messy as possible.
  • Sleep Aesop: Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle's cure for children who don't want them to go to bed is letting them stay up all night because they eventually discover that it sucks to be tired all day and/or fall asleep in the middle of an event.
  • Something Completely Different: "The Waddle-I-Doers", the final story in "Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle's Magic," lacks the magical cures of the rest of the book. Instead, Lee and Mimi Wharton are bored by the rain (which isn't terribly bad) and go to Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle's for a party with all of the other neighborhood children, where she tells them that she's run out of money and fears for the future. This leads the kids to search the house for the hidden drawers, containers, and other concealed places where Mr. Piggle-Wiggle left a fortune. In the end, Mimi discovers the biggest cache of all in the attic, saving Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle from destitution. The Missy Piggle-Wiggle books make this sort of thing a more regular feature of the story, by having chapters both at the beginning and end of each book that aren't about magical cures, but instead just have to do with fleshing out the ongoing story.
  • Spared by the Adaptation: In Missy Piggle-Wiggle, similar to the television show, Mr. Piggle-Wiggle isn't dead, simply missing. By the third book of the series, he has been found and rescued from the pirate ship on which he was being held captive. Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle asks Missy to continue staying at the upside-down house so that she and her husband can take a much-deserved adventure tour, sailing the world.
  • Take That!: Many, against the Because I Said So school of parenting. Most of the cures essentially consist of allowing the child to discover that their actions actually have consequences, learning how the world works and what to do in order to obtain the desired results instead of just that father knows best.
  • Team Mom: Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle.
  • The '50s
    • Or thereabouts for the original Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle books.
    • Missy Piggle-Wiggle and the Whatever Cure, however, is clearly set in the era it's written of the 2010s, as the characters are stated to use modern computers, as well as things such as flat-screen televisions. On the other hand, though, the problems faced are quite similar to those from the original books, which shows that in many ways things haven't changed. Kids still have problems like being tardy, not caring about others, or being a know-it-all, while the parents are still guilty of stuff like not enforcing proper discipline or being too permissive.
  • Theme Naming: A great deal of the background names in the books are extremely stuffy and/or formed from non-name words, like Ermintrude Broomrack or Guinevere Gardenfield.
  • The Musical: Written for Seattle Children's Theatre.
  • Tough Love: Advocates a much less harsh version of the trope: parents who try to protect their kids from the real world too much will prevent them from learning how to handle it, but all of the parents in the books still love their kids and are involved with them to some degree. A lot of the parents start having problems with the cures during the part where the kid is discovering the consequences of their actions, but not stepping in to soften the blow so much that the lesson is lost is vital.
  • Trash of the Titans: Hubert Prentiss
  • Wanting Is Better Than Having
    • The cure for children who want to stay up all night is just to let them. The children end up discovering that it's annoying to be tired all the time during the day, and then when they fall asleep at a movie première they'd been looking forward to for ages, that's the last straw.
    • Similarly, in Missy Piggle-Wiggle and the Whatever Cure, the Just-One-More-Minute Cure for Samantha Tickle is to simply state that something is about to happen and that there aren't going to be any further reminders, and then stick with that. Well, that and Missy Piggle-Wiggle sending her snarky talking parrot Penelope over to be Samantha's babysitter, as she's going to be spending a lot of time alone. The cure finally works when Samantha's parents have to go to eat out due to the kitchen being a disaster because of Samantha not doing her chores. Samantha is left behind and first fixes herself pasta with vegetables, then scrubs, washes and dries the entire kitchen top-to-bottom.
    This is how Samantha knew she was growing up: She didn't cry. She didn't accuse her parents of torturing her or abandoning her. She simply said. "All right. I'll make my own dinner." ... ... When Edison and Trillium returned two hours later, they found a clean house, the dishwasher humming, and Samantha finishing her homework while Penelope dozed on her perch.
  • What Did You Expect When You Named It ____?: In Missy Piggle-Wiggle and the Won't-Walk-the-Dog Cure, the problem that Einstein Treadupon has to have solved by Missy Piggle-Wiggle is that he's a know-it-all, a child genius who won't shut up explaining things to people they don't want to hear and is always interrupting and being rude. Prior to her curing him, however, some felt that the Treadupons got exactly what they should have expected when they named Einstein this.
  • Writing Lines: In Missy Piggle-Wiggle and the Won't-Walk-the-Dog Cure, Missy's possible boyfriend, Harold Spectacle, expresses appreciation at how creative her cures are after she successfully administers the titular Won't-Walk-the-Dog Cure, which involves turning the child's dog into a talking dog which is placed in charge of caring of the child, but shirks the responsibility. He notes that when he was a child, a teacher once tried to correct his behavior by making him write 100 lines on a chalkboard, but it only made him hate chalk.

The TV series has examples of:

  • Canon Foreigner: Pete the Delivery Man, fussy law officer Norbert Wainwright, Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle's grown daughter Potsy, and Howard the Hat-Tree, Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle's talking tree roommate whose branches carry magic hats that provide Mrs. P. with her cures. The kids and their parents also have mostly different names than their book counterparts.
  • Pragmatic Adaptation: The books' loads and loads of kids with bad habits are reduced to a small regular cast who repeatedly need cures.
  • Spared by the Adaptation: Mr. Piggle-Wiggle isn't dead in this version, just away at sea most of the time, and occasionally makes appearances.

Example of: