Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle As Bibliotherapy
Children's Book Review by Steve Barancik

Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle Titles:

Author: Betty MacDonald

Illustrator: Hilary Knight

Book Type: Children's chapter book

I would prescribe this book for this kind of child: Any child about 9 or under who can read for him/herself.

I think these are: classics of children's literature.

While researching another page on this site, I was reminded of the Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle books, which I recall my mother constantly providing me with as a child. I remember reading them voraciously , but I didn't really retain a sense of them all these years later.

I decided to check them out.

My mother was really on to something

Or maybe I should say, my mother was really up to something.

I read these now and think Betty MacDonald was quite ahead of her time. The first book, Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle (as well as the third, Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle's Farm) are very much about a parenting concept that I don't think even had a name back (1947-1957) when these were written.

Natural Consequences and Logical Consequences.

You can read a plethora of books now on these subjects but (in case you don't know) the gist is that you allow your child to experience negative results from his/her misbehavior.

One example: your child is a picky eater; you stop catering to it and let your child go hungry. Before long, he/she will learn to eat what's served!

Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle is a master of setting up elaborate consequences for children. Actually, it would be more accurate to say she's a master of showing parents in the books how to set up consequences, while Mrs. P-W herself manages to remain simply a friend to the children.

Let me give you an idea

Here are the chapter headings from the first book:

  • The Won't-Pick-Up-Toys Cure
  • The Answer-Backer Cure
  • The Selfishness Cure
  • The Radish Cure (for not taking baths)
  • The Never-Want-To-Go-To-Bedders Cure
  • The Slow-Eater-Tiny-Bite-Taker Cure
  • The Fighter-Quarrelers Cure

Like I said, now you know what my mom was up to!

Still, when I call these books bibliotherapy, I don't mean that the parents of a messy child should order him to read "The Won't-Pick-Up-Toys Cure" and expect him to cure himself.

No, the magic of Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle is more subtle.

You see, reading these books is a rare experience, because children are granted access to the minds not just of children but of parents.

It's rather brilliant, actually.

We are first exposed to Hubert, a messy child, by way of his mother, who doesn't know what to do about his appalling messiness. She's so concerned that she begins calling neighbors. She hears that the neighbor children actually do pick up their toys.

(Isn't that smart? The poorly behaving child is set apart as an unusual case. Young readers, who of course don't know how life is lived in any family but their own, are left to ponder how disturbing is the notion of a child who doesn't pick up after himself!)

Eventually, Hubert's mom is directed to Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle, who - like a good pediatrician - has seen this many times before and knows just what to do.

The cure - like all the cures in the first book - is highly amusing. (Not realistic, necessarily, but plenty realistic for a young reader.) Hubert's messiness actually renders him physically unable to go out and play with his friends, or even to eat dinner with the family.

He has been locked in his room by the rising level of his un-put away toys! His parents feed him by impaling his food on the tines of a rake and reaching it up to his 2nd floor window.

Naturally, and logically...

...Hubert wants to end this exile and does so by putting away his stuff. And, of course, he continues to do so in the future.

Another aspect of the brilliance of Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle is that MacDonald doesn't stay solely in the viewpoint of the mother. She makes sure that the reader also learns what it feels like to be the child in the midst of a Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle cure.

It's no fun! Often it's downright miserable.

The charm and wonder of the Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle books can't be overstated. Young readers find them highly humorous, as they get to witness the consequences of a fictional child's misbehavior, rather than have to experience it first hand.

But I don't think there's any doubt that readers learn from these books as well. They're taught that misbehavior and disobeying are the exception, not the rule. And, perhaps even more importantly, they're taught to look at children through an adult viewpoint.

In other words, they learn empathy. They learn what it feels like to be in someone else's shoes. Namely Mom's.

Which brings me to something else

These books are not new! The most recent is 49 years old as of this writing. It's possible you'll think they seem a tad dated. I feel a responsibility to mention that, though I don't think it effects their efficacy or readability. And, in fact, they didn't feel to me dated at all!

old and new Mrs. Piggle Wiggle art

They just strike me as classic, relevant children's literature.

The most pronounced thing is that moms, without exception, are homemakers, while dads are breadwinners who appear only rarely and are always rather humorously disengaged from family concerns.

Other than that, the age of these books seems to me largely without consequence. Dad turns on the radio, rather than the TV, to get his news. Children are left to themselves (and to Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle herself) for entertaining themselves.

Computers and video games are not there to do it for them, which is of course highly refreshing!

One other thing to note

Interestingly, or oddly, the original Piggle-Wiggle books break down into two types. In the first and the third (Mrs. Piggle Wiggle and Mrs. P-W's Farm) natural and logical consequences prevail.

But in the second and fourth (Mrs. P-W's Magic and Hello, Mrs. P-W) the cures are magical.

So if you're just getting started with these books, it's 1 and 3 I'd begin with. If your child grows addicted (like I did!), then I'd move on to 2 and 4. They certainly couldn't do any harm.

Also, since I haven't yet noted it, the original illustrations are by Hilary Knight of Eloise fame. They'll likely feel quite charmingly familiar.

Other ways to get your Piggle-Wiggle

The original versions of all the Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle books are still around, but they're such a great resource that their reach has been broadened.

The Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle Treasury contains three of the four originals.

Interestingly, a few of the "Cures" came out some years ago as full-out picture books (new illustrator). So now you can read some Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle to your pre-reading age children without their attention flagging. There's

  • The Bad Table Manners Cure
  • The Won't Pick Up Toys Cure
  • The Won't Take A Bath Cure
  • The Cry-Baby Cure

(There's also video Piggle-Wiggle.)

Frankly, I can't recommend these books highly enough. I'm thrilled to have run into them again as an adult.

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The Children's Literature page.

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