Long before we had the amazing world of Harry Potter with his faithful snowy owl Hedwig, and mystical books of spells. We had the unforgettable world of Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle, a cookie-smelling old woman with a magical hump, a mindfully mannered pet-pig named Lester, an upside-down house full of buried backyard treasures, and a chest full of extraordinary cures needed to handle the worst of children behaviors.
After a nearly ten year hiatus of any published books from the series that is ‘Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle’, Annie Parnell, author / great-granddaughter of Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle author Debbie MacDonald, has teamed up with Ann M. Martin ( The Babysitter’s Club, Rain Reign) and Ben Hatke ( Legends of Zita The Space Girl) to bring a revamped version of this American classic to a new generation of readers through the magical world of Missy Piggle-Wiggle. Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle’s niece–who now inhabits the Upside-House, and cures the neighborhood children of their not-so-great-habits, while trying to settle into the town of Spring Valley. I had the amazing pleasure of speaking with Annie Parnell about her new book, “Missy Piggle-Wiggle and the Won’t-Walk-the-Dog Cure,” and it was everything Piggly-Wiggly and more.
Hi Lisa, how are you doing?
I am doing well, I am so excited to be interviewing you regarding your new book from the Missy Piggle Wiggle book series entitled, “Missy Piggle-Wiggle and the Won’t-Walk-The-Dog Cure.”
Thank you for taking the time to speak with me. Your new book, Missy Piggle-Wiggle and the Won’t-Walk-the-Dog Cure, is the second release in a series of newly revised books based off your great grandmother’s (the iconic Betty MacDonald) American classic book series entitled “Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle.” But this time around we are introduced to “Missy,” Mrs. Wiggle’s niece who has her own array of magical potions, and assured cures for unruly children behavior. It’s been some time since a book from the legacy that is Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle has been released-being that “Happy Birthday Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle” was released in September 2007, by your grandmother Anne MacDonald Canham. Can you give me an idea of what the creative process was like from then until now with regards to bringing these revised stories to life? And why such a long wait (laughs)?
Well at the time that the Happy Birthday Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle book came out in 2007, my grandmother had been working on it for some time. It was a process, I’m not sure how many years had gone by, but I think I had given birth to my son. I left my job in television and was able to stay home for a few years while she was developing and writing that book. But before the birth of my son in 2005, when I was still working in television, I was learning how to develop TV shows and the whole process that goes along with that. During that time, loving my grandmother’s books as much as I do and did, I kept thinking, people keep trying to turn this into a movie, but this really is meant to be a TV series, because it’s episodic you know?
And so that kind of got stuck in my head. I understood that there were some issues with the original books that made them hard to translate, not the least of all being that Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle isn’t actually in the stories (laughs) and what television show have you ever seen where your essential character isn’t in the story?
(Laughs) That is true.
So between having my son and then my daughter, and through that time of raising my children, I began to think about how Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle could essentially be translated into a television animated kids series. My husband, who still worked in television, connected me to a few people who I could pitch the series to and I ended up meeting with this amazing woman by the name of Rachel Miller who is a fantastic manager. She by way of my husband learned that Betty MacDonald was my great-grandmother, and she told him that if I ever decided to do anything with my grandmother’s books, that she would have to be a part of it because she was a huge fan of the series and still had her original books from childhood.
No way, wow, that is something else.
Yes, and she was very passionate about it, so when I met with her she asked if I would ever consider writing some new books? I said yes, spoke with my grandmother about it. Then I realized that I didn’t want to try to completely rewrite Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle because I thought she’s so perfect the way she is. That’s where I sort of came up with this younger version of Missy, where one might get to grow with her a little bit and experience her journey.
That is amazing. Well, I likened the roundup of creatives on these book series to that of a Marvel Comic with all the Avengers (laughs).
(laughs) That is so extraordinarily flattering, wow! Thank you.
It’s true, we have you, we have Ann M. Martin, we have Ben Hatke who is the illustrator. You all are superheroes. You three are so dynamic in what each of you has accomplished, and it’s rather remarkable. How did you all end up joining forces to create these series?
Thank you. Well after I wrote my proposal for the new books, I gave it to my agent Molly Glick who’s amazing. Then she shared it with Jean Feiwel (Feiwel & Friends & Macmillan), who then had the brilliant idea of pairing me up with Ann M. Martin. Because I had never written a novel before, I had written screenplays, but it wasn’t sort of my core place to live (laughs), so it ended up being a really brilliant marriage between Ann and I. She is such a great collaborator and is so interested in getting it right, and she is such a great writer in her own right. With the illustration, there were a number of people who created beautiful issues. We wanted to keep the spirit of what the art was in Betty’s books. There was a core essence to Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle that we felt had to exist in Missy. It would be really difficult to illustrate these books and do it well in which it wouldn’t reflect in some way the original artwork from Betty’s books. There is just silliness and sweetness, but then a groundedness in all of it that has to be reflected in the art as well as in the writing.
The initial book series of Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle was inspired by your great-grandmother Betty MacDonald’s own life raising her children and grandchildren. In creating the new characters and cures for this revamped series, were you inspired by anyone in your life?
It’s interesting, growing up with my grandmother and my mom and my aunt. Even my uncles to some extent, so much of the humor. The way in which we look at children and adults, it’s sort of ingrained in just my family. It’s hard to differentiate between that perception of the world, and then what I’ve gotten from the books. I would say that I could not imagine writing this before I had the experience of being a mother because pre-motherhood I looked at kids, and I would look at parents just like most people who haven’t had any kids and go “Oh! Why can’t they make their child do this?” (laughs)
These are the kind of things you go through. Like the, “I would do that so much better if I were a parent” or “I would never do that.” Sure enough, you have children, and you find yourself in a situation where you say to yourself, “Why can’t I make “my child” do this? (Laughs) or I can’t do this. I can’t do this at all, I’m terrible you know! (Laughs)
Yes, totally (laughs)
And you learn to be more forgiving of yourself, and certainly you learn to be forgiving of the sort-of natural misbehaviors of kids. So in that regard, I don’t know if I would say that I was inspired by a particular person, but I would say the family in which I grew up and the way in which we perceive the idiosyncrasies of children and the way in which we find humor in those things, as well as frustrations, absolutely informed how Missy came to life.
One would assume it to be a difficult task to pick up creatively where Debbie MacDonald and Anne MacDonald Canham left off with this renowned classic so many years later–but I feel that you and Ann hit the mark in bridging the gap between these characters. It felt like a natural progression, almost as if no time has passed between published works. Of course, there are a few things that we as parents do a tad bit different with our children now that we are in the twenty-first century versus what parents were doing 60 years ago when the first Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle book was published, but how were you two able to modernize the storylines so effortlessly? Is this what you all had intended to do when setting out to write these new series of books?
Absolutely, there were certain things that we felt really strongly about as far as updating it, and less about the technology, because as it goes, it certainly is here, and it wasn’t there. But, it was more about, in the original books. It was always the mom stays home and takes care of the kids, and the dad was looking over the front of his newspaper and saying “Yes dear.” We wanted to show a much larger variety of what families look like today, and how they interact with each other. In that way, we wanted to contemporize it, but we did want to keep the way in which kids could just wander through the streets of this town in the same way that it was in the original books. Where everyone could go to the upside-down house, and moms knew their children were safe. You know we kind of took away the big world worries, which didn’t exist in the first books, and they don’t exist in this one either, but only in so far as the family dynamics structure than anything else.
So, what made you create a niece for Mrs. Wiggle? Why not create a nephew instead of Missy, like a Henry Wiggle?
Why a Missy? You know It’s funny, it’s probably because I am a female, and you write what you know right? And before I ever gave a proposal over to my agent, I was banding about a number of ideas of what this new series might look like, and the name Missy just seemed like a lovely way to kind of point a finger at Mrs. and really clearly indicate. But there was something there in the title that I just really loved that seemed to carry itself over very easily into what the storytelling would be
In the original Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle book, Mrs. Wiggle’s spouse (Mr. Piggle- Wiggle) has passed on, and she is making a life for herself in little spring valley. This time around Mr. Wiggle is alive, but missing, and Mrs. Wiggle leaves her niece Missy in charge while she sets off to find him. Why is Mr. Wiggle alive? (Laughs)
(Laughs) Well Betty did us a wonderful favor because she wrote four books. When she wrote those four books, if you read them all, and re-read them all as I have done, especially as I started putting together a pitch, you realize there’s a number of inconsistencies between books. Sometimes there’s no magic, and sometimes there is magic. She lives on a farm, she lives in a house, and things change. So when we all sat down and really started digging into how this book would be, and what was going to happen to Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle, I strongly felt that we could play with that as well. I know that he was dead in the original books, but I thought you know, we live in a world where the storytelling people come back from the dead all the time (Laughs).
All the time (Laughs)
Not in life, but certainly in our storytelling. It’s not such a huge convention that we are breaking right there, and I also think it gives Mrs. Piggle-Wigle a sort of really delightful, and happy unending backstory that we can all be delighted by as she finds him (Mr. Piggle-Wiggle).
That is great! In the new book, Missy Piggle-Wiggle and The-Won’t-Walk-the-Dog Cure, there are many different cures that Missy uses to cure the neighborhood children of various issues that arise, one of them being, of course, The Won’t-Walk-the-Dog Cure. Why choose that particular cure as the title for this book?
That one, was just the one that the publishers chose out of the titles of the cures. I love it because Ann Martin is a passionate advocate for animals and fostered them, and this story I know was one that was particularly close to her heart because she deeply cares that animals are looked after in the right way. It’s possible that this played a role in it, but I would be guessing.
Being an animal lover myself, that particular part of the book really touched me. The relationship between the boy and his dog, just makes one think about how we truly treat each other. And, ultimately highlights the responsibilities that we have and will continue to have as children becoming adults, and adults becoming parents of children, but this is what this book does, it presses upon the heartstrings of children and parents making this a book for everyone to enjoy. Which brings me to my next question? Without giving away too much of the story, I couldn’t help but notice that Missy has a suitor in the series.
Harold Spectacle, yes.
Yes, and I am wondering if Harold is a boyfriend or just a suitor?
I think both Missy and Harold are still trying to figure out what that is, but I love that she has her own story you know? That is what (except for, one story in the original books) Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle never really got with her own stories. So, I love that Missy has her own stories throughout the books alongside the children, and I completely agree with you, that there is something that both parents and children can get out of these books. And I was really struck as I’ve said when I was revisiting the books as a parent, how much Betty’s sort of parenting philosophy as it comes to the books, reflect so many of the very best parenting books that we are reading these days, you know? Like natural consequences, and love and logic, and that kind of stuff, and that there is a sense of trust in the children’s ability to figure things out if you give them some guidance.
Absolutely. I know that you have two children, do you have any Missy Piggle-Wiggle cures that you use on them? Is there one in particular that you may suggest to friends who have children? (laughs)
You know I do have one that I give to my friends, and it’s when your kids are in school, and getting out the door becomes extremely difficult, ( laughs) you don’t want to spend your morning telling your kids to get ready and get out the door right? You’re saying put your clothes on, put your shoes on. We have to go we have to go, and screen time becomes such a huge commodity for kids, and I feel really strongly that I don’t want my kids to have unlimited screen time so they get a certain amount a day during the school year and it’s usually after school.
So, with my son, I was getting tired of the saying we’ve gotta get out the door. So I said, here is the deal, and he was probably in the first or second grade when I began doing this, but I said if you get up in the morning, you get dressed. You make your bed, your backpack’s packed, you have got your lunch packed in your bag. I make his lunch, but if he has it packed in his bag, and he’s eaten breakfast and is completely ready to walk out the door, I said whatever time is left, you can have for screen time. I kid you not that kid is up and ready to go to school, perfect room, perfect bed (laughs).
(Laughs) That is so funny
Both him and his sister now. They get up, and there is no argument, you have to give them the right kind of incentive that they want, and you can live with.
Wow, I love it. Speaking of your children, do they show any signs of wanting to continue the legacy of storytelling through the world of Missy Piggle-Wiggle?
Maybe, I feel so strongly about allowing them to figure out who they are without a whole lot of influence on my part. So I guess for me, I don’t have a great desire for them to do that unless it’s something they are passionate about. But both kids love writing in totally different ways. They love a lot of things in different ways. They are very different people, but as far as right now my son in particular kind of loves to after he finishes reading a book, he likes to tell me “I hope in the next book, that this will happen, or that will happen” kinds of things. My daughter is most interested in the kids and the cures right now, so I think right now that is where their interest lies, they are very interested in the fact that these books are happening and that it’s their mom attached to it, that is a key component for them (laughs).
That is wonderful. You are extremely multi-talented. You are a mother as we have just discussed, a wife, you worked in television for several years, you’re an author, and a photographer just to name a few, you are a renaissance woman (laughs).
I am a renaissance woman (laughs)!
With all of these amazing things going on, how do you find your “me” time?
You know the “me” time is something that every parent struggles with and not to overgeneralize. But I think women in particular because we are more likely to be the person who stays home and does most of the child-rearing. Even if we are working, and when you go to work I don’t want to say that it’s easier, but I think that there is an element that is easier in that your time is more compartmentalized. When you are at work, you are at work, and when you are at home, you are a parent, so yes, finding the time is absolutely I would say the most difficult thing. I wouldn’t even begin to pretend that I have it mastered, I just tend to go from project to project and whatever is most demanding of my time. I would say if there is one thing that I have learned over the past five years or so as I have gotten myself deeply invested in this project and a few others are, the ability to say no, and I don’t mean to my kids. I mean when you are a person who cares about the projects you work on and tries to make everything is done right, everybody wants you to be in the PTA, or work on this or that and being a people pleaser, I would say yes to so many things, and I would burn out. So, I have learned that the key thing for me is that there are a whole lot of things that I do, that I have to do. Sometimes I want to do them, and sometimes I may not. But as a parent, as a person who is managing the home in general, there are things with my various jobs. Whether it’s the book or photography that I have to and want to do. Then there are those things that people ask you to do that I find if I say no to those things because they are not on the ‘want to’ or ‘have to’ list, then my life is so much easier to manage. So, when it comes to the kid’s school I pick the things that I want to do, you know? I love doing the field trips, so I sign up for those, every time. I love doing the talent shows, so I help out with that, and a few of the school’s big functions as well, and everything else I say. ‘I am sure someone else can do that’ because there are a lot of other parents and I try my best to reserve some time for myself in whatever way I can.
I’ve heard that you are currently in the works to make an animated series based off of your new books, can you tell me a little more about that?
Yes, we have partnered up with a fantastic house called Mighty Coconut. Right now we are in the very, very early stages of the development process, but that is the goal to have an animated series based off of Missy Piggle-Wiggle, and I am excited and hopeful that we can do that.
That is wonderful. Can we anticipate more books from the series that is Missy Piggle-Wiggle?
I just got the Manuscripts for book three from Ann, and I am going over that now, so there is at least going to be three books, hopefully, more.
That is great news! Thank you, Annie, for taking the time to speak with me, I feel as though I learned so much about Missy and the world that is ‘Piggle-Wiggle.’ Congratulations also on the soon-to-be-release of Missy Piggle-Wiggle and the Won’t-Walk-the-Dog Cure.
That is wonderful. Thank you as well, Lisa.
With a modernized spin on this ageless classic, there is no way that this book won’t captivate and re-captivate the hearts of not only a new generation of readers but also their parents and grandparents. I assure you that I would be the first in the line to get it.