Compared to the other books, I’m not sure that Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle’s Magic really lives up to its title. Sure, there’s magic afoot in all of the stories, but it’s not as creative and exciting as I remembered.
(On a side note, I always wondered if the star effect on the end of Mrs. P-W’s wand and at the top of her hat on the cover were meant to make her seem less like a witch. I used to live across the street from a family who wouldn’t let their kids play the video game The Legend Of Zelda because it included witches. I also remember a conversation I had with a wonderful woman I took Taekwondo with, where I told her I was excited about the premiere of that hot new show, Sabrina, The Teenage Witch. She told me that she wouldn’t let her daughter watch it, just as she wouldn’t watch Bewitched back in the day, because they glamorized witchcraft.)
Anyway, we get an intro chapter here, part of which I have never forgotten. Molly O’Toole is eating a candy cane and reading Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle’s big dictionary, when she accidentally drools juice on the colored pictures of gems. Mrs. P-W, of course, is totally cool and says:
“There’s nothing as cozy as a piece of candy and a book. Don’t look so embarrassed, Molly, I almost drool every time I look at those gems–which one is your favorite?–I think mine is the Lapis Lazuli.”
(Of course, back when I read it, I had to look up a Lapis Lazuli to see what they looked like, and while they were pretty, they wouldn’t have been my favorite!)
This time around, we get:
- The Thought-You-Saiders Cure – A magic powder in the ears makes kids’ hearing hypersensitive.
- The Tattletale Cure – Black licorice pills cause kids to exhale smoky “tattletales” that hang overhead for every time they tattle.
- The Bad-Table Manners Cure – Lester, the trained pig (who cameos in Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle’s Farm) teaches good table manners by example and with a firm hoof. He even handles a mother’s attempts to serve him spareribs and bacon gracefully!
- The Interrupters – Magic blowers render interrupting children (and parents) speechless.
- The Heedless Breaker – More powder makes a little girl unable to move any way except slowly and gracefully.
- The Never-Want-To-Go-To-Schooler – Tonic turns a little boy who keeps missing school stupid until he’s shamed into returning.
- The Waddle-I-Doers – More on this below–there’s no cure given.
My favorite moment in the whole series–and a testament to how much I love the absurd, even as a kid–occurs in the “Thought-You-Saiders Cure” chapter, where the Burbank children keep creatively mishearing things for maximum comic potential. While their father walks them to school, they ask Marilyn Matson’s mother if she’ll be coming to school with them, but Marilyn “fell in her coaster and hurt her head.”
“Now what’s so funny?” Mr. Burbank asked.
Darsie said, “Marilyn’s mother said Marilyn fell in the toaster and is burnt up dead.”
I remember giggling, giggling, GIGGLING over that line–it’s a sucker-punch you don’t expect. The absurd extreme of falling into a toaster and “burning up dead” in a book as sweet (mostly) as these tickled me then, and does now.
And, like all the great children’s book authors, MacDonald mingles the sweet with the spiky–the tattletales flying out of Wendy and Timmy’s mouths hang grotesquely above them, multiple tales wagging; there’s real pathos when Jody Jones finds himself unable to read, count or do anything but watch “the candle wax drip down the candles in the middle of the table.”
One of my favorite moments in the book is when Mr. Franklin, the father of the interrupting children, asks his wife why she doesn’t use flowers in her flower arrangements.
Mrs. Franklin smiled indulgently at her husband and began explaining, “Flower arranging is an art–“
Later, after her youngest son interrupts her to mention his freshly caught little green frog, he suggests that it would be the perfect addition to her arrangements.
“Why, Stevie, what a wonderful idea,” said Mrs. Franklin excitedly, “But how would I get him to stay in the bowl?”
“Oh, Cheeper’d stay,” said Stevie. “He’s awful tame. He does just anything I want him to.”
The most interesting thing about this book is the last chapter, “The Waddle-I-Doers.” Mimi and Lee Wharton are upset that it’s raining on a day when Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle was leading a hike and picnic to Big Rock. They don’t want to do anything until Mrs. P-W invites them over for lunch and dinner.
On the way there, the storm has flooded the streets, and I love how MacDonald presents the feeling of a heavy rain making your familiar neighborhood unfamiliar. On the way, stuck in a storm drain, Mimi finds a black silk scarf. At Mrs. P-W’s, she discovers that it contains a piece of pirate gold.
While Mimi’s still marveling at her luck, Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle shares some backstory, describing how she ended up with an upside-down house (Mr. Piggle-Wiggle flipped the blueprints of a regular house) and how she’s been paying the bills and buying the gingerbread (hidden treasure drawers left by Mr. P-W).
Whether she is being sincere, or this is another manipulative cure for “Waddle-I-Do-Itis,” she tells the children that she’s out of money, and couldn’t have afforded to go on the picnic if it hadn’t rained. She asks them all to search her house for the remaining hidden drawers and cupboards. Mimi’s pirate coin brings her luck and she finds a secret door in the attic that contains enough treasure to last Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle for the rest of her life. Shortly after, Dick Thompson finds a note from Mr. P-W to his wife in the basement.
My last secret cupboard is very hard to find so I am leaving this letter on your gardening shelf in the basement as I am sure that before too many years this shelf will become so crowded and cluttered you will have to clean it off and then you will find this letter. The last secret cupboard of treasure is behind the chimney in the attic. Just jerk hard on that old loose board.
Your loving husband,
It’s frustratingly oblique–no personal touches, no big reveal, no, “I will always love you” to the Mrs. We’re never told (unsurprisingly) how/when Mr. P-W died, but he must have had some inkling since he had time to plan this elaborate scavenger hunt. (Guess a savings account wasn’t as sexy.)
Even so, then, as now, I love the idea of hidden treasure, and wouldn’t it be fantastic to be searching an old house for jewels and gold and money during a thunderstorm by candlelight? My favorite thing about this book has always been that sense of adventure on a rainy day, that your own house can have magical surprises for you, and who knows what’s going to wash down the street during a storm?
I remember looking out at the rain as a kid, the outside world suddenly a scary and exciting place making being inside so much cozier and warmer. I miss that feeling of security but this book helped remind me a little of it.