happybirthdaymrspwWhen I was checking all the Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle books out of the library, I noticed a title that I had never heard before: Happy Birthday, Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle.

Could there have been another sequel I had never known about? I checked it out from the library and, in my car outside, flipped through it. Apparently it’s based around one “lost” story Betty MacDonald wrote, and then the rest are written “from her notes” by her daughter, Anne MacDonald Canham.

It was bad.

Not horribly bad, but charmless, like a bad Saturday morning cartoon of a book you loved as a kid: the same basic plots, some of the same characters, but a flatness.

This time around, Mrs. P-W uses a mixture of manipulation, magic tricks and her animal helpers to help children…although the cures feel thin, as if Canham didn’t quite flesh out the notes as much as she should have.

There’s:

  • The Just-One-More-TV-Show Cure – Kitten and Sean Hanover learn not to watch too much TV when Mrs. P-W babysits and “forces” them to watch so much that they get sick, sleepy and miss out on fun with friends.
  • The Won’t-Brush-Teeth Cure – My “Radish Cure”-hating teacher is having a laugh now: I found this disgusting. Betsy Applebee won’t brush her teeth (and food keeps getting stuck in between her choppers), until Wag the dog (totally ripping off the table manners cure with Lester the pig) teaches her brushing is fun. Sure it is, dear.
  • The Insult Cure – Blake Branson keeps insulting everyone, so Mrs. P-W gives him magic black paper and a pen to write all his zingers down. They come to life and fly above his bed, glowing so brightly he’s shamed into becoming nice.
  • The Picky-Eater Cure – Will Pemberton is picky, so Mrs. P-W gives him magical rainbow crystals to sprinkle on his food to change it into the plainer fare he wants. He gets sick of “plain noodles” and starts eating regularly. He must not have figured out he could have used the crystals to turn his food into something he liked better. Idiot.
  • The Afraid-To-Try Cure – Jonathan Campbell (great name) is too shy to try anything new (basketball, skateboarding, kissing boys), until Mrs. P-W and Lightfoot the cat (always my fave) trick him into gaining confidence in himself by pretending to need his help in rescuing her from atop a tree. (Lightfoot, not the old lady.)
  • The Messy Stuff-And-Cram Cure – Katy McCloud shoves all her stuff under beds and behind drawers, so Mrs. P-W lends her parents some magical paint that turns all her furniture invisible, sending all the clutter to the center of the room, where Katy can easily clean it. Lame-a-rillo.
  • The Never-Finish Cure – Janie Beaumont is given a magic powder that makes her physically unable to drop one task and start another until the first is finished. Yes, Janie. It’s called cocaine. 
  • The 14-And-Pregnant Cure – Kidding!

While there are nice touches in the book (the way the rainbow crystals sizzle; Lightfoot winking at Mrs. P-W after being “rescued”), there are too many downright bad things about it.

The illustrations are HORRENDOUS, for example. Alexandra Boiger has a loose, anime-ish style, and in her hands, Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle looks like a deformed hunchback troll, and all the animals and children look either disturbing or vaguely menacing. The drawings are terrible, terrible, terrible.

The book ends with a nice closer, where the neighborhood children and parents throw Mrs. P-W a birthday party, where she gets another letter from her long-dead husband. (His surprise to her? Materials for her to build a new treehouse and vegetable garden! Um…thanks?) It does strike a nice note of finality at the end, where everyone in the town is falling over themselves to cheer Mrs. P-W.

Even though the books are set during the same time period as the originals, this one feels especially outdated. Couldn’t Canham, in her present-day fillip on the classics, do away with the gender-based division of labor and games that persists through the series? It was understandable in the books written in the 1940s, but in a book written in 2007, it’s unforgivable.

This book is a pale echo of the originals–the illustrations themselves are UNBELIEVABLY WRETCHED while the writing is just weak–and leaves me hoping that this is the end of the series.

 But we had some good times while they lasted, didn’t we, Mrs. P-W? Wait…the illustrator was right!!!…you really are a deformed hunchback troll?!

AAAHHH!

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