hellomrspwI still remember and love many of the books I read as a kid. In elementary school, the teachers would read out loud every day after lunch, and oftentimes I would get so into the story that I would check whatever book we were reading out of the library and tear through it.

One of the series of books we read in school this way were the Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle books. They were really, really charming, and, in case you don’t know, are about a kindly woman who helps neighborhood parents “cure” their children’s faults with a little magical help.

I don’t know why, but I’d started thinking about these books again. From time to time, I get hungry for books I’ve read and loved in the past, and I want to read them again. That’s how I felt about Hello, Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle, my favorite in the 1950s series. (I think I liked the fact that she was talking on an old-fashioned, “Marge, can you put me through to the grocer?” telephones on the cover.)

When I got it from the library (the huge LA public library system a far cry from the converted grocery-store-to-library I went to when I was little), I was happy to see that it was the same cover art I remembered. None of this reimagining for me–I want the covers of these kids’ books to look the same as when I first read them.

The book was just as charming as I remembered. Check out these names:

  • Meg Carmody
  • Edith Perriwinkle
  • Harvard Foxglove
  • Trent and Tansy Popsickle
  • Carlotta Semicolon
  • Priscilla Wick
  • Mary Crackle
  • Corinthian Bop
  • Harbin Quadrangle

I love reading about this charming, idealized world, of mothers baking “thick chewey chocolatey nutty brownies,” of play-coats and workbaskets. The problems these kids have are universal but solvable with love and a little magic, and basically, they’re all good people. Plus, the cures are creative:

  • Show-off Powder, which causes the child to become invisible until s/he stops showing off
  • Leadership Pills, which “evens things up” when “[children’s] bodies grow faster than their patience and kindess.” Plus, they taste like peppermint and are easily tucked into the crust of a warm apple turnover.
  • Whisper Sticks, with their “very nice flavor–sort of raspberry cherry,” that causes whispering, gossiping children to temporarily speak no louder than “a little noise, like someobdy brushing sugar off a shelf.”
  • Unnamed Slowpoke Spray, a little bottle of clear fluid that helps lethargic, daydreamy children (and adults) get a little (or a lot) more pep in their step
  • Crybabyitis Tonic, my favorite, which “tastes delicious, sort of like vanilla ice cream with caramel sauce” but causes the most drastic result of all: a crybaby’s tears flow out like a faucet, enough in the story to flood an empty playground.

While Betty MacDonald (a fantastic author…her adult stuff is wonderful, too) does include gentle winks above the heads of her young readers (especially in terms of the foibles of parents) and moments of real poignance, what stands out most in this, and all of the books, is a sweetness that’s pretty, well, magical. Melody Carmody, the crybaby, floods the playground with tears, unable to stop, until her friend Pergola Wingsproggle brings her “a darling little orange kitten.” Melody is able to smile and stop the tears, and her sympathetic teacher, Mrs. Rexall, takes her to the teachers’ room to get dry. She wraps her up in a blanket and hands her the kitten.

The kitten curled up inside Melody’s arm and the blanket was soft and warm and pretty soon they were both asleep. She woke up when Mrs. Rexall came in with her clothes all wrinkly but dry and then there was Mommy to drive the children home and school was over.

I love the way it’s said, gently, that “then there was Mommy to drive the children home and school was over.” There is and never will be any doubt that Mommy will be there, to pick you up, that life will ever be anything but orderly and full of love, and if you hit any obstacles, a loving adult and a sleepy kitten can help you get back on track.

I used to want to be a librarian, and a big reason for that was wanting to “live” in a world of the books I love, to never be far away from them and to have the opportunity to pass them along to others. It makes me happy to know that I can read something that was important to me 20+ years ago, and it still can move me.

Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle makes an appearance (or two) in each story, but you never find out much more about her than she has a sea chest full of magical cures from her late husband, the pirate; her phone number is Vinemaple 1-2345; and that in her house, which looks like a little brown dog sunning itself on its back in the garden, she hosts the neighborhood children but lives alone.

I’m reminded of a passage in one of the Pippi Longstocking books, where Annika worries that Pippi will be lonely living all by herself, and goes over to invite her to live with her family. Before she knocks though, she sees Pippi through the window, sitting at a table with a candle in front of her, with a huge smile on her face, dreamily staring off, obviously not in need of Annika’s charity. A little mystery like that is necessary, I think, for a magical character, and I love the beautiful ending of “The Bully” chapter:

As Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle walked off down the street in the dusk, her dog Wag on one side, Lightfoot the cat on the other, Mrs. Semicolon wiped her eyes with a corner of her apron and said to nobody in particular, “There goes the most wonderful little person in the whole world.”

Advertisements