Q&A: Ann M. Martin and Annie Parnell Talk Missy Piggle-Wiggle


If you grew up on The Never-Want-to-Go-to-Bedders Cure, The Thought-You-Saiders Cure, and The Slow-Eaters-Tiny-Bite-Takers Cure, then you're going to need a Don't-Speed-on-the-Way-to-the-Bookstore Cure, because the wonderful world of Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle is back.

Ann M. Martin (The Baby-Sitters Club, Rain Reign) and Annie Parnell, great-granddaughter of Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle author Betty MacDonald, have joined forces for Missy Piggle-Wiggle and the Whatever Cure, a modern-day take on the series that has young Missy Piggle-Wiggle stepping into her great-aunt's enchanted shoes to take charge of the Upside-Down House and its magical menagerie. 

We talked to Martin and Parnell about how they retooled the series for today's kids, their collaboration process—and the Piggle-Wiggle spell they'd like to make a reality.

How did the idea to reboot Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle come about?
Ann M. Martin: I was an avid fan. I had the first four Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle books, which I can envision on the shelf in my bedroom. The stories made me laugh out loud. My favorite was "The Radish Cure," in which a little girl who doesn't like taking baths is allowed not to bathe for so long that her body becomes encased with soil, at which point her parents are instructed to plant radish seeds in the dirt one night. Several days later she finds herself covered with green sprouts, and begs for a bath. Problem solved. Brilliant. So when my editors told me that Annie Parnell was interested in bringing back the world of Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle and asked if I'd be interested in writing the books, of course I said yes.

Annie Parnell: The reboot of the series was a long time coming. Back, before I had kids, when I worked in the television industry, I spent a fair amount of my free time trying to crack a way into bringing Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle to the screen. It might seem easy, but when you really dig in and look at the books, Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle simply isn’t in them that much. Which begs the question: How do you make a TV series or movie when the title character just isn’t there? It wasn’t until after I had kids of my own that I saw Betty’s stories from an entirely new perspective. It was then that I realized if I were to ever reimagine this world on the page or the screen, I wanted to spend a lot more time in the wonderful, sometimes magical, upside-down world of the Piggle-Wiggles.

However, I didn’t want to reinvent Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle. She really is perfect the way she is, so Missy seemed like a natural way back into these stories. And of course, none of this would have ever happened if it wasn’t for my brilliant manager, Rachel Miller (who also happens to be a Piggle-Wiggle fanatic). She really gave me that first big push away from the screen and back to the page.

Illustrations by Ben Hatke

You've succeeded in maintaining the tone and overall Piggle-Wiggle magic while still updating the series for today's kids. Were you concerned about walking that line?
AM: I was more concerned about doing justice to the world that Betty MacDonald had created. Hers are big shoes to fill. But I had so much fun with that world and its magic that my stage fright faded as I worked on the first book. Annie Parnell had lots of ideas about updating the series and about the introduction of Missy Piggle-Wiggle, and she, [Feiwel & Friends publisher] Jean Feiwel, [Feiwel & Friends editor-in-chief] Liz Szabla, and I met and talked often about the direction the new series should take, so I felt well supported when I began writing.

How closely did you two work together?
AM: It was Annie's idea to introduce Missy, Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle's great-niece, a younger and more contemporary character. Annie, Jean, Liz, and I met early on to talk about Missy and how she would fit into the world of Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle. The four of us spoke several more times by phone, and Annie read and commented on the outline for the book as well as each stage of the manuscript. She had fun ideas for cures and, as a mom, she also had valuable insight into the problems kids encounter today.

AP: Working with Ann was great. Creating the world and setting up the rules was a wholly collaborative process, with lots of back and forth, pitching ideas for cures and characters and storylines. But when it comes down to it, Ann did the heavy lifting here. She’s the one who sat down in front of the blank page day after day and wrote a book, and somehow managed to step into Betty’s shoes and run in them. She really did a spectacular job. This is not to say that I didn’t have some very strong opinions about how some of the stories played out, I absolutely did, but fortunately everyone involved in the project wanted the same thing: a book that is fun and funny, that holds true to the world that Betty created without feeling too old-fashioned, and I feel really confident that we did that.

Ann, you've talked before about how your characters are often inspired by people you know. Kristy and Mary Anne from The Baby-Sitters Club, for example, included characteristics from you and your best friend. Is Missy inspired by anyone?
AM: Being able to build on the world created by Betty MacDonald is great fun. Missy wasn't inspired by anyone in particular, but the Piggle-Wiggle world is in my mind when I write. In fact, I keep copies of the books on my desk for inspiration.

Did Betty MacDonald leave anything for you to work with—storylines or characters cut from previous books?
AM: No, I didn't have any unpublished work, but I did have that fabulous world—the upside-down house, Lester the polite pig, Penelope the parrot, and the other animals. And of course Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle's particular way of dealing with children, which manages to be both practical and magical, not to mention hilarious.

AP: As far as I know, Betty only left one unpublished cure, which my grandmother, Anne Canham, incorporated into her book, Happy Birthday, Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle. But I think Betty’s published material, and a lifetime of my family making up their own little Piggle-Wiggle-esque cures and stories, was more than enough to send us on the right track.

© Forde Photographers

With your grandmother also working on the Piggle-Wiggle series, was there a “passing of the torch,” so to speak?
AP: My grandmother was thrilled when I proposed writing a new series of books and has been my number one cheerleader this entire time. I honestly couldn’t have done it without her support and steadfast belief in me.

Inventing the various Piggle-Wiggle cures and potions seems like it would be a blast. If you could invent your own Piggle-Wiggle style cure to use in real life, what would it be?
AM: If there were a way to magically vacuum the word "like" out of people's mouths before they, like, use it, like, unnecessarily, that would be, like, great.

AP: This has to be my favorite question, ever. I obsess not only about what I like to call Piggle-Wiggle Parenting (how her cures play into real-life parenting), but also imagining funny imaginary cures for my kids' latest misbehaviors. These days it feels like everything has to happen right now. And, by the way, this is not just a kid problem; plenty of adults can barely handle a slow internet connection without losing their cool. But for kids in particular this is a struggle since they’ve never known anything other than instant gratification.

My kids are astonished when I tell them about the “olden days” when we had to listen to the radio and hope the song we wanted to hear would come on, or if someone called and we didn’t answer, they would have to keep calling back until we were home, or if we wanted to learn about a topic (and our family didn’t have their own encyclopedia set), we had to go to the library and look it up using the Dewey Decimal System. So I love the idea of a cure for impatient-itis, where everything in their world slows down and the world gets old-school; their cell phones dial like rotary phones, each text message takes a whole day to send, and selfies have to process for a week before they can see them.

Are you able to say what's next for Missy and her menagerie?
AM: In the second book, Missy cures whiney-whiners and smarty-pantsiness, as well as other habits, while continuing to make a life for herself in Little Spring Valley.

Ann, I have to ask—with all of the recent book revivals lately, is there any chance we'll see the return of The Baby-Sitters Club? I'm sure many fans would love to check in with the BSC members as grownups.
AM: At the moment there are no plans for grownup versions of Kristy, Claudia, and the others. However, the original books will continue to be published in graphic novel form, thanks to Raina Telgemeier's inspired imagining of the characters and world of Stoneybrook.

Missy Piggle-Wiggle and the Whatever Cure is available in bookstores, and online, now.