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Book Review: Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle Cures Misbehavior with Laughter


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All right.  Now it’s April 2.  Here’s the blog post you were actually owed yesterday before I decided I’d rather post a prank.

Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle is a name that strikes bells in the scattered memories of my childhood. A friend if not a favorite of my sister’s, I have vague recollections of invading her room to hear the tales or pieces of the tales. Until our recent reintroduction, I could not have told you much about the woman, however. Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle is an older woman who never could reconcile herself to the world or company of adults (a sentiment that I can relate to now in a way that I couldn’t have during any earlier encounter and would make me smile as a parent reading these tales to my children). She is eccentric, living in an upside down house with a menagerie of interesting pets. But the children love her, and she is friends with them all. Her house is a sanctuary for them. Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle becomes known among the parents as a woman with a cure for every misbehavior. The series tells short tales of the successes of her cures. This first novel of Betty MacDonald’s series, called simply Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle, tells of the cures for children who think that chores are a cruel personal punishment, who won’t pick up toys, who always answer back, who are selfishness, who won’t wash, who never want to go to bed, who will only take tiny bites, and who fight and quarrel.

The stories have an element of ridiculous humor. MacDonald relies heavily upon exaggeration and a stretching of the possible. It would take a very long time, for example, for a child who does not wash to acquire enough soil for radish seeds to begin to take root upon her skin. I know of very few parents who would be able to accept Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle’s advice as wholly as do these desperate parents, and though I think that some of the cures might work, some border upon cruelty themselves and child endangerment.

This is a very interesting tale because it pits child against parent without either being vilified (the children always being described by Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle as essentially good but behaving badly in this one way) and effects victories for the parents by letting the children do, often as not, exactly as they please. It is the sort of ultimate example of laissez-faire as a method of governing. Children I think will be attracted to this call to let children be children and do as they please as well as Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle’s kindness and oddity. Parents will be pleased with the lessons.

I should take a moment to note that this is a book from the 1940s, physical punishments such as spankings are looked upon more casually than I would consider them, and the dynamics between the two parents are not the examples to which we aspire today. Often, the mothers are women who stay at home to mind the children, cook, and keep house. The fathers are, if sometimes physically present and almost always attached to mothers, often emotionally and mentally absent. For that, MacDonald does a good job of making each nebulous father of a slightly different personality during his small amount of page time.

This was a quick and light read all in all.


MacDonald, Betty. Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle. Illus. Hilary Knight. New York: HarperTrophy-Harper & Row, 1985. First published 1947.

This review is not endorsed by Betty MacDonald, her estate, Harper Trophy Books, Harper & Row Publishers (later bought by HarperCollins Publishers LLC).  It is an independent, honest review by a reader. Editions now available from HarperCollins are illustrated by Alexandra Boiger.