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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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10 Things We Know About The Handmaid’s Tale Season 2
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Though Hulu has been producing original content for more than five years now, 2017 turned out to be a banner year for the streaming network with the debut of The Handmaid’s Tale on April 26, 2017. The dystopian drama, based on Margaret Atwood’s 1985 book, imagines a future in which a theocratic regime known as Gilead has taken over the United States and enslaved fertile women so that the group’s most powerful couples can procreate.

If it all sounds rather bleak, that’s because it is—but it’s also one of the most impressive new series to arrive in years (as evidenced by the slew of awards it has won, including eight Emmy and two Golden Globe Awards). Fortunately, fans left wanting more don’t have that much longer to wait, as season two will premiere on Hulu in April. In the meantime, here’s everything we know about The Handmaid’s Tale’s second season.

1. IT WILL PREMIERE WITH TWO EPISODES.

When The Handmaid’s Tale returns on April 25, 2018, Hulu will release the first two of its 13 new episodes on premiere night, then drop another new episode every Wednesday.

2. MARGARET ATWOOD WILL CONTINUE TO HELP SHAPE THE NARRATIVE.

Fans of Atwood’s novel who didn’t like that season one went beyond the original source material are in for some more disappointment in season two, as the narrative will again go beyond the scope of what Atwood covered. But creator/showrunner Bruce Miller doesn’t necessarily agree with the criticism they received in season one.

“People talk about how we're beyond the book, but we're not really," Miller told Newsweek. "The book starts, then jumps 200 years with an academic discussion at the end of it, about what's happened in those intervening 200 years. We're not going beyond the novel. We're just covering territory [Atwood] covered quickly, a bit more slowly.”

Even more importantly, Miller's got Atwood on his side. The author serves as a consulting producer on the show, and the title isn’t an honorary one. For Miller, Atwood’s input is essential to shaping the show, particularly as it veers off into new territories. And they were already thinking about season two while shooting season one. “Margaret and I had started to talk about the shape of season two halfway through the first [season],” he told Entertainment Weekly.

In fact, Miller said that when he first began working on the show, he sketched out a full 10 seasons worth of storylines. “That’s what you have to do when you’re taking on a project like this,” he said.

3. MOTHERHOOD WILL BE A CENTRAL THEME.

As with season one, motherhood is a key theme in the series. And June/Offred’s pregnancy will be one of the main plotlines. “So much of [Season 2] is about motherhood,” Elisabeth Moss said during the Television Critics Association press tour. “Bruce and I always talked about the impending birth of this child that’s growing inside her as a bit of a ticking time bomb, and the complications of that are really wonderful to explore. It’s a wonderful thing to have a baby, but she’s having it potentially in this world that she may not want to bring it into. And then, you know, if she does have the baby, the baby gets taken away from her and she can’t be its mother. So, obviously, it’s very complicated and makes for good drama. But, it’s a very big part of this season, and it gets bigger and bigger as the show goes on.”

4. THE RESISTANCE IS COMING.

Just because June is pregnant, don’t expect her to sit on the sidelines as the resistance to Gilead continues. “There is more than one way to resist," Moss said. “There is resistance within [June], and that is a big part of this season.”

5. WE’LL GET TO SEE THE COLONIES.

A scene from 'The Handmaid's Tale'
Hulu

Miller, understandably, isn’t eager to share too many details about the new season. “I’m not being cagey!” he swore to Entertainment Weekly. “I just want the viewers to experience it for themselves!” What he did confirm is that the new season will bring us to the colonies—reportedly in episode two—and show what life is like for those who have been sent there.

It will also delve further into what life is like for the refugees who managed to escape Gilead, like Luke and Moira.

6. MARISA TOMEI WILL APPEAR IN AN EPISODE.

Though she won’t be a regular cast member, Miller recently announced that Oscar winner Marisa Tomei will make a guest appearance in the new season’s second episode. Yes, the one that will show us the Colonies. In fact, that’s where we’ll meet her; Tomei is playing the wife of a Commander.

7. WE’LL LEARN MORE ABOUT THE ORIGINS OF GILEAD.

As a group shrouded in secrecy, we still don’t know much about how and where Gilead began. That will change a bit in season two. When discussing some of the questions viewers will have answered, executive producer Warren Littlefield promised that, "How did Gilead come about? How did this happen?” would be two of them. “We get to follow the historical creation of this world,” he said.

8. THERE WILL BE AT LEAST ONE HANDMAID FUNERAL.

A scene from 'The Handmaid's Tale'
Hulu

While Miller wouldn’t talk about who the handmaids are mourning in a teaser shot from season two that shows a handmaid’s funeral, he was excited to talk about creating the look for the scene. “Everything from the design of their costumes to the way they look is so chilling,” Miller told Entertainment Weekly. “These scenes that are so beautiful, while set in such a terrible place, provide the kind of contrast that makes me happy.”

9. ELISABETH MOSS SAYS THE TONE WILL BE DARKER.

Like season one, Miller says that The Handmaid’s Tale's second season will again balance its darker, dystopian themes with glimpses of hopefulness. “I think the first season had very difficult things, and very hopeful things, and I think this season is exactly the same way,” he told the Los Angeles Times. “There come some surprising moments of real hope and victory, and strength, that come from surprising places.”

Moss, however, has a different opinion. “It's a dark season,” she told reporters at TCA. “I would say arguably it's darker than Season 1—if that's possible.”

10. IT WILL ALSO BE BLOODIER.

A scene from 'The Handmaid's Tale'
Hulu

When pressed about how the teaser images for the new season seemed to feature a lot of blood, Miller conceded: “Oh gosh, yeah. There may be a little more blood this season.”

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The Plucky Teenage Stowaway Aboard the First American Expedition to Antarctica
The Ohio State University Archives
The Ohio State University Archives

Documentary filmmaker and journalist Laurie Gwen Shapiro came across the name "William Gawronski" in 2013 while researching a story about Manhattan's St. Stanislaus, the oldest Polish Catholic church in the U.S. In 1930, more than 500 kids from the church had held a parade in honor of Billy Gawronski, who had just returned from two years aboard the first American expedition to Antarctica, helmed by naval officer Richard E. Byrd.

The teenager had joined the expedition in a most unusual way: by stowing aboard Byrd's ships the City of New York and the Eleanor Bolling not once, not twice, but four times total. He swam across the Hudson River to sneak onto the City of New York and hitchhiked all the way to Virginia to hide on the Eleanor Bolling.

"I thought, 'Wait, what?" Shapiro tells Mental Floss.

Intrigued by Billy's persistence and pluck, Shapiro dove into the public records and newspaper archives to learn more about him. She created an Excel spreadsheet of Gawronskis all along the East Coast and began cold-calling them.

"Imagine saying, 'Did you have an ancestor that jumped in the Hudson and stowed away to the Antarctic in 1928?'" Shapiro says. She got "a lot of hang-ups."

On the 19th call, to a Gawronski in Cape Elizabeth, Maine, an elderly woman with a Polish accent answered the phone. "That boy was my husband," Gizela Gawronski told her. Billy had died in 1981, leaving behind a treasure trove of mementos, including scrapbooks, notebooks, yearbooks, and hundreds of photos.

"I have everything," Gizela told Shapiro. "I was hoping someone would find me one day."

Three days later, Shapiro was in Maine poring over Billy's papers with Gizela, tears in her eyes.

These materials became the basis of Shapiro's new book The Stowaway: A Young Man's Extraordinary Adventure to Antarctica. It's a rollicking good read full of fascinating history and bold characters that takes readers from New York to Tahiti, New Zealand to Antarctica, and back to New York again. It's brimming with the snappy energy and open-minded optimism of the Jazz Age.

Shapiro spent six weeks in Antarctica herself to get a feel for Billy's experiences. "I wanted to reach the Ross Ice barrier like Billy did," she says.

Read on for an excerpt from chapter four.

***

As night dropped on September 15, Billy jumped out of his second-floor window and onto the garden, a fall softened by potatoes and cabbage plants and proudly photographed sunflowers. You would think that the boy had learned from his previous stowaway attempt to bring more food or a change of dry clothes. Not the case.

An overnight subway crossing into Brooklyn took him to the Tebo Yacht Basin in Gowanus. He made for the location he'd written down in his notes: Third Avenue and Twenty-Third Street.

In 1928 William Todd's Tebo Yacht Basin was a resting spot— the spot—for the yachts of the Atlantic seaboard's most aristocratic and prosperous residents. The swanky yard berthed more than fifty staggering prizes of the filthy rich. Railroad executive Cornelius Vanderbilt kept his yacht O-We-Ra here; John Vanneck, his Amphitrite. Here was also where to find Warrior, the largest private yacht afloat, owned by the wealthiest man in America, public utilities baron Harrison Williams; yeast king (and former mayor of Cincinnati) Julian Fleischman's $625,000 twin-screw diesel yacht, the Carmago; General Motors president Alfred P. Sloan's Rene; shoe scion H. W. Hanan's Dauntless; and J. P. Morgan's Corsair III. The Tebo Yacht Basin's clubroom served fish chowder luncheons to millionaires in leather-backed mission chairs.

Todd, a great friend of Byrd's, lavished attention on his super-connected pal with more contacts than dollars. He had provided major funding for Byrd's 1926 flight over the North Pole, and helped the commander locate and refit two of the four Antarctic expedition ships for $285,900, done at cost. Todd loved puffy articles about him as much as the next man, and press would help extract cash from the millionaires he actively pursued as new clients; helping out a famous friend might prove cheaper than the advertisements he placed in upmarket magazines. Throughout that summer, Byrd mentioned Todd's generous support frequently.

Two weeks after the City of New York set sail, the Chelsea, the supply ship of the expedition, was still docked at the Tebo workyard and not scheduled to depart until the middle of September. Smith's Dock Company in England had built the refurbished 170-foot, 800-ton iron freighter for the British Royal Navy at the tail end of the Great War. First christened patrol gunboat HMS Kilmarnock, her name was changed to the Chelsea during her post–Royal Navy rumrunning days.

Not long before she was scheduled to depart, Byrd announced via a press release that he was renaming this auxiliary ship, too, after his mother, Eleanor Bolling. But the name painted on the transom was Eleanor Boling, with one l—the painter's mistake. As distressing as this was (the name was his mother's, after all), Byrd felt a redo would be too expensive and a silly use of precious funds. Reporters and PR staff were simply instructed to always spell the name with two ls.

As Billy eyed the ship in dock days after his humiliation on board the New York, he realized here was another way to get to Antarctica. The old, rusty-sided cargo ship would likely be less guarded than the flagship had been.

As September dragged on, Billy, back in Bayside, stiffened his resolve. No one would think he'd try again! On September 15, once more he swam out during the night to board a vessel bound for Antarctica.

Since his visit two weeks prior, Billy had studied his news clippings and knew that the Bolling was captained by thirty-six-year-old Gustav L. Brown, who'd been promoted weeks earlier from first mate of the New York when Byrd added the fourth ship to his fleet. Billy liked what he read. According to those who sailed under Brown's command, this tall and slender veteran of the Great War was above all genteel, and far less crotchety than the New York's Captain Melville. Captain Brown's education went only as far as high school, and while he wasn't against college, he admired honest, down-to-earth workers. Like his colleague Captain Melville, Brown had begun a seafaring life at fourteen. He seemed just the sort of man to take a liking to a teenage stowaway with big dreams.

Alas, the crew of the second ship headed to Antarctica now knew to look for stowaways. In a less dramatic repeat of what had happened in Hoboken, an Eleanor Bolling seaman ousted Billy in the earliest hours of the morning. The kid had (unimaginatively) hidden for a second time in a locker under the lower forecastle filled with mops and bolts and plumbing supplies. The sailor brought him to Captain Brown, who was well named, as he was a man with a mass of brown hair and warm brown eyes. The kind captain smiled at Billy and praised the cheeky boy's gumption—his Swedish accent still heavy even though he'd made Philadelphia his home since 1920—yet Billy was escorted off to the dock and told to scram.

A few hours later, still under the cover of night, Billy stole back on board and was routed out a third time, again from the “paint locker.”

A third time? The Bolling's third in command, Lieutenant Harry Adams, took notes on the gutsy kid who had to be good material for the lucrative book he secretly hoped to pen. Most of the major players would score book deals after the expedition; the public was eager for adventure, or at least so publishers thought. The catch was that any deal had to be approved by Byrd: to expose any discord was to risk powerful support. Adams's book, Beyond the Barrier with Byrd: An Authentic Story of the Byrd Antarctic Exploring Expedition, was among the best: more character study than thriller, his grand sense of humor evident in his selection of anecdotes that the others deemed too lightweight to include.

Billy was not the only stowaway that September day. Also aboard was a girl Adams called Sunshine, the "darling of the expedition," a flirt who offered to anyone who asked that she wanted to be the first lady in Antarctica. (In the restless era between world wars, when movies gave everyone big dreams, even girl stowaways were not uncommon.) Brown told a reporter that Sunshine had less noble aspirations, and soon she, too, was removed from the Bolling, but not before she gave each crew member a theatrical kiss.

As the early sun rose, Captain Brown called Billy over to him from the yacht yard's holding area where he had been asked to wait with the giggling Sunshine until his father arrived. The captain admired Billy's gumption, but it was time for the seventeen-year-old to go now and not waste any more of anyone's time.

As Lieutenant Adams recorded later, "Perhaps this matter of getting rid of Bill was entered up in the Eleanor Bolling log as the first scientific achievement of the Byrd Antarctic expedition."

*** 

From THE STOWAWAY: A Young Man's Extraordinary Adventure to Antarctica by Laurie Gwen Shapiro. Copyright © 2018 by Laurie Gwen Shapiro. Reprinted by permission of Simon & Schuster, Inc.

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