Friday, September 20, 2013

Book Review: Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle by Betty MacDonald (Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle #1)

Stars: 4 out of 5
Pros: Fun stories that show the dangers of bad behavior.
Cons: Not quite as magical as a couple of the books
The Bottom Line:
Some new ideas
So misbehaviors beware
Fun consequences

Giving Kids a Taste of Their Deepest Wishes

How to explain the appeal of Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle as a kid’s book.  It’s really not easy to do.  This early to middle grade book takes kids with huge behavior problems and fixes them.  So why would kids enjoy reading them so much?  I certainly know I did as a kid.

This is the first book and it sets the pattern for all the books to come.  The first chapter introduces Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle.  She’s the widow of a pirate who lives in an upside down house.  While she never had kids of her own, she welcomes them to her house with open arms.  She serves tea, bakes cookies, and lets the kids use her clothes for dress up.  The boys dig for pirate treasure in the backyard.  And she helps them look at their chores as games, racing the clock to get them down before the wicked witch or evil queen comes to lock them away if they aren’t done correctly.

From there, the rest of the book focuses on specific kids who have special behavior problems.  They each get their own chapter, and these seven chapters form their own short stories with no plot arc tying them together.  When the parents get fed up with their kid’s behavior, they turn to Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle who offers them help.  There are cures of selfishness, slow-eater-tiny-bite-taking, fighting, not wanting to take a bath, talking back, not wanting to go to bed, and not putting toys away.

In later books, the parent gets a piece of magic from Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle, and those can be quite funny.  However, this book is slightly more realistic.  The cures Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle offers are basically to let the child completely indulge in their bad behavior for a few days and then have to deal with the consequences.  The results are funny if exaggerated.  No one would become as weak after four days of not eating as in the chapter on the slow eater, for example.  It's a bit of reverse psychology in a way.  You think you want this?  Well then here you go.

And that, actually, is what makes this book appeal to kids.  Yes, they are moral lessons about why certain behavior is bad.  But they are funny because the bad behavior is exaggerated to the extreme.  While you might recognize your bad behavior, you can see the reason why it is so bad and laugh along the way.

The stories are very formulaic and pretty short.  We’re talking an average of 15 pages each with a detailed line drawing illustration by Hilary Knight in each chapter.  I blew through the book quickly as an adult, and I’m sure kids won’t have an issue with it either.  This would make a fun read aloud at bed time since the chapters are short.  Plus they are funny and not remotely scary, a good thing at bed time.

There is also little in the way of character development.  How could there be in something so short?  But as a kid, I just enjoyed sailing through the books and enjoying seeing the bad behavior exaggerated.

This book was written in the 40’s, and it is definitely dated.  The parents do spank the kids a time or two.  But most comical to me was how the adults talked to each other as Mrs. this or Mrs. that.  Also, in a few of the chapters, the fathers were next to useless.

I enjoy another couple of the books in this series better, but Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle is still a fun book that will warn kids about bad behavior in a way that will completely entertain them.

This review is part of Friday's Forgotten Books (more can be found here) and Marvelous Middle Grade Monday (more found here).


  1. I loved these as a child and still recommend them to some readers. The Hilary Knight illustrations make me happy! I may have to push a couple of these today!

    1. I saw someone else has done illustrations for the books now. That's just not right. HIlary Knight's illustrations are classics!