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Literature / Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle

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A series of children's books by Betty MacDonald 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.)

The original books are:

  • Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle (1947; illustrations by Richard Bennett)
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  • Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle's Magic (1949; illustrations by Kurt Wiese)
  • Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle's Farm (1954; illustrations by Maurice Sendak)
  • Hello, Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle (1957; illustrations by Hilary Knight)

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

A fifth book was left unfinished at the time of Betty MacDonald's death in 1958. It was completed by her daughter, Anne MacDonald Canham (with illustrations by Alexandra Boiger), and published in 2007 as Happy Birthday, Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle.

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:

  • Backhanded Apology: In Missy Piggy-Wiggle and the Whatever Cure, the first stage of said Whatever Cure involves the child being cured being magically placed in a floating bubble whenever they do something incosiderate. They can get out of it if they apologize, but as Frankfort Freeforall discovers, "Veronica, I'm sorry you're such a crybaby" won't work. It just causes the bubble to swoop up even higher.
  • Be Careful What You Wish For: Many non-magical cures involve giving the children exactly what they want, so that they can learn that they don't really want it after all. For example, the boy who doesn't want to share learns that this means other kids won't want to play with him or be his friend, and the kids who don't want to go to bed learn that if they stay up all night, they'll be tired during the day and this will cause them to miss out on or not enjoy things they were looking forward to.
  • 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."
  • 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.
    • Two of the kids she cured, Morton Heatherwick and Harbin Quadrangle, have habits because of this.
  • Cool House: Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle's house is literally upside-down!
  • Crying a River: Melody Foxglove cries excessively so she gets given something called Crybaby Tonic which makes her unable to stop crying. She then fills entire rooms and a school field with her tears.
  • Dare to Be Badass: This is how Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle cures Phoebe of her Fraidy Cat tendencies. She invites her to stay at the farm, and Phoebe starts to enjoy herself while doing chores and getting acquainted with the animals. Then Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle suffers a nasty fall, and Phoebe has to ride a horse to get help and make coffee. She does so, with Penelope the parrot's help. The doctor praises her for being proactive.
  • 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.
  • Epiphany Therapy: Mostly played straight. A few of the children who undergo one of the cures are described as having occasional relapses, but most of them permanently kick their bad habit after the one experience.
  • 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.
  • Formula-Breaking Episode: "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.
  • 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–Face Brainwashing: How the leadership pills work on Nick and other bullies. They cause the person to develop empathy and a Heel Realization, so that Nick goes to apologize to the boy whose arm he broke. Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle implies that the sensation of Good Feels Good means that Nick eventually will reform on his own.
  • 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.
  • Ignored Epiphany: When they are grocery shopping, Nick spitefully breaks another boy's carton of eggs that he is getting for his mother. His mother makes him switch the eggs and use his allowance to buy graham crackers as an Apology Gift. Nick doesn't get it until he's fed Leadership Pills.
  • Imagine the Audience Naked: Discussed in Missy Piggle-Wiggle and the Sticky-Fingers Cure. When Melody tells Missy that they have to give oral reports at school and she hates talking in front the class, the narration notes that most adults would suggest to her that on report day, she imagine her classmates sitting in their underwear, but Missy knew that wouldn't make a bit of difference. She instead has Melody practice with her and continue practicing repeatedly with her parents until she can walk into the classroom with confidence.
  • Injured Limb Episode: There are a few examples:
    • Nick breaks a boy's arm by knocking him to the ground and stomping on him with workboots. Mrs. Semicolon goes Oh, Crap! when the boy's mother calls in a fury, and the father very nearly goes Papa Wolf when Nick under the influence of Leadership Pills is compelled to apologize.
    • When Phoebe goes to stay with Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle, the lady falls in her basement, spraining her ankle. Phoebe is worried about her and motivated to get help from the nearby doctor. He says with relief that she should recover nicely. It's unknown if Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle engineered the situation or if she knew that eventually, Phoebe would have to rise to the occasion.
  • 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.)
  • 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 usual method by which Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle's cures work. The Trope Namer comes from a story where a little girl hates taking baths. Her family lets her go unbathed for quite some time. Eventually, she is covered in a layer of dirt thick enough that her parents secretly plant radish seeds there. The seeds sprout in a day or two, and when the girl sees them, a Freak Out ensues. She screams for a bath, her parents have her take a shower instead, which she willingly stays in for hours until she is spotless, and she never wants to go without her nightly bath again.
    • A boy who doesn't want to clean his room is allowed to slack off on cleaning his room until his toys pile up so much that he can't leave his room at all and will miss seeing the circus if he doesn't get around to finally cleaning up.
    • A boy who hates sharing his things with other children is given locks, labels, and paint that he can use to lock up or write his name and the message "DON'T TOUCH!" on all of his possessions, down to even his lunch food. This causes him to become a laughingstock among his peers who take all the "DON'T TOUCH!" messages as an invitation to touch, and he's eventually shamed into taking off all the messages.
    • Three children who want to stay up well past their bedtime are allowed to do just that, which has the predictable outcome of them being too tired during the day to focus on or enjoy anything they do. The chapter ends with them practically begging their parents to let them go to bed on time.
    • The plot outline changed a little after the author added magic powers to Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle's repertoire. For example, the Whisper Sticks - sweet candy canes given to two little girls who whisper incessantly, so that they can't do anything but whisper and end up in a huge fight.
  • 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. Although in this case, the idea is not that they'll do the opposite, but that they will initially go along since they're getting what they want, and then learn by experience that what they want isn't all it's cracked up to be.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • Won't Take "Yes" for an Answer: In Missy Piggle-Wiggle and the Won't-Walk-the-Dog Cure, the boy who eventually gets said dog, Egmont Dolittle, has asked his parents if he can get a pet many, many times before, only to be told "No." Finally, his parents decide to ask him what kind of pet he wants, thinking maybe it'll be something simple like a goldfish. When they ask him this, he asks them again if he can have a pet, then does a double-take and drops his fork to the floor before it finally sinks in what they said and he shouts "What?!"
  • 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.
  • You Are Better Than You Think You Are: The point of "The Fraidy Cat Cure". Phoebe thinks she's useless and her parents are exasperated by how everything scares her. Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle takes her to the farm to teach her chores and face her fears. Phoebe eventually realizes that the world isn't as scary as it seems, and she can be capable.

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.

Alternative Title(s): Mrs Piggle Wiggle