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.

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Hulton Archive, Getty Images
15 Things You Might Not Know About Jules Verne
Hulton Archive, Getty Images
Hulton Archive, Getty Images

Jules Verne, widely regarded as one of the fathers of science fiction, wrote some of literature's most famous adventure novels, including seminal works like Journey to the Center of the Earth, Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea, and Around the World in 80 Days. In addition to helping pioneer a new genre of writing, the French author also sailed the world, had a career as a stockbroker, fell in love with his cousin, and was shot by his nephew. Here are 15 facts you probably didn't know about him.

1. HE GREW UP SURROUNDED BY SHIPS.

On February 8, 1828, Pierre and Sophie Verne welcomed their first child, Jules Gabriel, at Sophie's mother's home in Nantes, a city in western France. Verne's birthplace had a profound impact on his writing. In the 19th century, Nantes was a busy port city that served as a major hub for French shipbuilders and traders, and Verne's family lived on Ile Feydeau, a small, man-made island in a tributary of the Loire River. Verne spent his childhood watching ships sail down the Loire and imagining what it would be like to climb aboard them [PDF]. He would later work these early memories of maritime life into his writing.

2. HE FELL IN LOVE WITH HIS COUSIN.

Verne began writing poetry at just 12 years old. As a teenager, he used poetry as an outlet for his burgeoning romantic feelings. Verne fell in love with his cousin, Caroline Tronson, who was a year and a half older than him. He wrote and dedicated poems to Tronson, gave her presents, and attended dances with her. Unfortunately, Tronson didn't reciprocate her younger cousin's feelings. In 1847, when Verne was 19 and Tronson was 20, she married a man two decades her senior. Verne was heartbroken.

3. HIS FATHER PRESSURED HIM TO BE A LAWYER.

While Verne had been passionate about writing since his early teens, his father strongly encouraged young Jules to follow in his footsteps and enter the legal profession. Soon after Tronson's marriage, Verne's father capitalized on his son's depression, convincing him to move to Paris to study law.

Verne graduated with a law degree in 1851. But he kept writing fiction during this period, and continued to clash with his father over his career path. In 1852, Verne's father arranged for him to practice law in Nantes, but Verne decided to pursue life as a writer instead.

4. HE LIVED IN PARIS DURING A TUMULTUOUS TIME.

Verne's time in Paris coincided with a period of intense political instability. The French Revolution of 1848 broke out soon after Verne moved to the city to study law. Though he didn't participate, he was strikingly close to the conflict and its turbulent aftermath, including the coup d'état that ended France's Second Republic. "On Thursday the fighting was intense; at the end of my street, houses were knocked down by cannon fire," he wrote to his mother during the fighting that followed the coup in December 1851. Verne managed to stay out of the political upheaval during those years, but his writing later explored themes of governmental strife. In his 1864 novella The Count of Chanteleine: A Tale of the French Revolution, Verne wrote about the struggles of ordinary and noble French people during the French Revolutionary Wars, while his novel The Flight to France recounted the wartime adventures of an army captain in 1792.

5. HE BECAME A STOCKBROKER TO PAY THE BILLS.

In May 1856, Verne was the best man at his best friend's wedding in Amiens, a city in northern France. During the wedding festivities, Verne lodged with the bride's family and met Honorine de Viane Morel, the bride's sister. He developed a crush on Morel, a 26-year-old widow with two kids, and in January 1857, with the permission of her family, the two married.

There was one big problem. Verne had been writing plays for Paris theaters, but being a playwright didn't pay the bills. Verne needed a respectable income to support Morel and her daughters. Morel's brother offered Verne a job at a brokerage, and he accepted, quitting his theater job to become a stockbroker at the Paris Bourse. Writing was never too far from Verne's mind, though. He woke up early each day to write and research for several hours before heading to his day job.

6. HIS ADVENTURE NOVELS WERE PART OF A SERIES …

A caricature of Jules Verne on the sea floor with fantastic sea creatures on the cover of a magazine.
Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain

Modern readers probably think of Verne's most famous books as distinct entities, but his adventure novels were actually part of a series. In the early 1860s, Verne met Pierre-Jules Hetzel, an established publisher and magazine editor who helped Verne publish his first novel, Five Weeks in a Balloon. This novel served as the beginning of Voyages Extraordinaires, a series of dozens of books written by Verne and published by Hetzel. Most of these novels—including famous titles like Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea—appeared in installments in Hetzel's magazine before being published in book form.

7. … THAT PROVIDED HIM WITH A STEADY STREAM OF INCOME.

Starting in 1863, Verne agreed to write two volumes per year for Hetzel, a contract that provided him with a steady source of income for decades. Between 1863 and 1905, Verne published 54 novels about travel, adventure, history, science, and technology for the Voyages Extraordinaires series. He worked closely with Hetzel on characters, structure, and plot until the publisher's death in 1886. Verne's writing wasn't limited to this series, however; in total, he wrote 65 novels over the course of his life, though some would not be published until long after his death.

8. HE DREW INSPIRATION FROM HIS OWN SAILING ADVENTURES.

During the 1860s, Verne's career was taking off, and he was making good money. So in 1867, he bought a small yacht, which he named the Saint Michel, after his son, Michel. When he wasn't living in Amiens, he spent time sailing around Europe to the Channel Islands, along the English Coast, and across the Bay of Biscay. Besides enjoying the peace and quiet at sea, he also worked during these sailing trips, writing most of the manuscripts for Around the World in Eighty Days and Twenty Thousand Leagues Under The Sea on his yacht. As he earned more money, he replaced the Saint Michel with a larger boat that he called the Saint Michel II. A few years later, he bought a third vessel, the Saint Michel III, a steam yacht that he hired a crew of 10 to man on long voyages to Scotland and through the Mediterranean.

9. HE'S ONE OF THE MOST TRANSLATED AUTHORS IN THE WORLD …

Verne wrote in French, but his works have always had an international appeal. Since the 1850s, his writing has been translated into approximately 150 languages—making him the second most translated author ever. He has appeared in translation even more often than William Shakespeare. He is second only to Agatha Christie, who holds the world record.

10. … BUT NOT ALL OF THOSE TRANSLATIONS ARE ACCURATE.

Although Verne wrote primarily for adults, many English-language publishers considered his science fiction writing to be juvenile and marketed his books to children. Translators dumbed down his work, simplifying stories, cutting heavily researched passages, summarizing dialogue, and in some cases, nixing anything that might be construed as a critique of the British Empire. Many translations even contain outright errors, such as measurements converted incorrectly.

Some literary historians now bemoan the shoddy translations of many of Verne's works, arguing that almost all of these early English translations feature significant changes to both plot and tone. Even today, these poor translations make up much of Verne's available work in English. But anglophone readers hoping to read more authentic versions of his stories are in luck. Thanks to scholarly interest, there has been a recent surge in new Verne translations that aim to be more faithful to the original texts.

11. HE HAD MAJOR HEALTH PROBLEMS.

Starting in his twenties, Verne began experiencing sudden bouts of extreme stomach pain. He wrote about his agonizing stomach cramps in letters to family members, but he failed to get a proper diagnosis from doctors. To try to ease his pain, he experimented with different diets, including one in which he ate only eggs and dairy. Historians believe that Verne may have had colitis or a related digestion disorder.

Even more unsettling than the stomach pain, Verne suffered from five episodes of facial paralysis over the course of his life. During these painful episodes, one side of his face suddenly became immobile. After the first attack, doctors treated his facial nerve with electric stimulation, but he had another attack five years later, and several more after that. Recently, researchers have concluded that he had Bell's palsy, a temporary form of one-sided facial paralysis caused by damage to the facial nerve. Doctors have hypothesized that it was the result of ear infections or inflammation, but no one knows for sure why he experienced this.

Verne developed type-2 diabetes in his fifties, and his health declined significantly in the last decade of his life. He suffered from high blood pressure, chronic dizziness, tinnitus, and other maladies, and eventually went partially blind.

12. HIS MENTALLY ILL NEPHEW SHOT HIM IN THE LEG …

In March 1886, a traumatic incident left the 58-year-old Verne disabled for the rest of his life. Verne's nephew Gaston, who was then in his twenties and suffering from mental illness, suddenly became violent, to Verne's detriment. The writer was arriving home one day when, out of the blue, Gaston shot him twice with a pistol. Thankfully, Verne survived, but the second bullet that Gaston fired struck the author's left leg.

13. … LEAVING HIM WITH A PERMANENT LIMP.

After the incident, Gaston was sent to a mental asylum. He wasn't diagnosed with a specific disorder, but most historians believe he suffered from paranoia or schizophrenia.

Verne never fully recovered from the attack. The bullet damaged his left leg badly, and his diabetes complicated the healing process. A secondary infection left him with a noticeable limp that persisted until his death in 1905.

14. HIS WORK CONTRIBUTED TO THE RISE OF STEAMPUNK.

Verne's body of work heavily influenced steampunk, the science fiction subgenre that takes inspiration from 19th century industrial technology. Some of Verne's characters, as well as the fictional machines he wrote about, have appeared in prominent steampunk works. For example, the TV show The Secret Adventures of Jules Verne explored the idea that Verne actually experienced the fantastic things he wrote about, and Captain Nemo from Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea appeared as a character in the comic book series The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen.

15. MANY OF HIS PREDICTIONS WERE SURPRISINGLY SPOT-ON.

Some of the technology Verne imagined in his fiction later became reality. One of the machines that Verne dreamed up, Nautilus—the electric submarine in Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea—came to life years after he first wrote about it. The first installment of the serialized Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea was published in 1869, and the first battery-powered submarines were launched in the 1880s. (Similar submarine designs are still in use today.)

In addition, Verne's Paris In The Twentieth Century contains several surprisingly accurate technological predictions. Written in 1863, the dystopian novel imagines a tech-obsessed Parisian society in 1960. Verne wrote about skyscrapers, elevators, cars with internal combustion engines, trains, electric city lights, and suburbs. He was massively ahead of his time. He even wrote about a group of mechanical calculators (as in, computers) that could communicate with one another over a network (like the Internet). Pretty impressive for a guy born in 1828.

But Verne's influence goes beyond science fiction, steampunk, or real-world technology. His writing has inspired countless authors in genres ranging from poetry to travel to adventure. As Ray Bradbury wrote, "We are all, in one way or another, the children of Jules Verne."

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TASCHEN
Everything You Need to Know About Food in One Book
TASCHEN
TASCHEN

If you find yourself mixing up nigiri and sashimi at sushi restaurants or don’t know which fruits are in season, then this is the book for you. Food & Drink Infographics, published by TASCHEN, is a colorful and comprehensive guide to all things food and drink.

The book combines tips and tricks with historical context about the ways in which different civilizations illustrated and documented the foods they ate, as well as how humans went from hunter-gatherers to modern-day epicureans. As for the infographics, there’s a helpful graphic explaining the number of servings provided by different cake sizes, a heat index of various chilies, a chart of cheeses, and a guide to Italian cold cuts, among other delectable charts.

The 480-page coffee table book, which can be purchased on Amazon for $56, is written in three languages: English, French, and German. The infographics themselves come from various sources, and the text is provided by Simone Klabin, a New York City-based writer and lecturer on film, art, culture, and children’s media.

Keep scrolling to see a few of the infographics featured in the book.

An infographic about cheese
TASCHEN

An infographic about cakes
Courtesy of TASCHEN

An infographic about fruits in season
Courtesy of TASCHEN

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