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Q&A: Ann M. Martin and Annie Parnell Talk Missy Piggle-Wiggle

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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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15 Powerful Quotes From Margaret Atwood
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It turns out the woman behind such eerily prescient novels as The Handmaid’s Tale and Oryx and Crake is just as wise as her tales are haunting. Here are 15 of the most profound quips from author, activist, and Twitter enthusiast Margaret Atwood, who was born on this day in 1939.

1. On her personal philosophy

 “Optimism means better than reality; pessimism means worse than reality. I’m a realist.”

— From a 2004 interview with The Guardian

2. On the reality of being female

“Men often ask me, Why are your female characters so paranoid? It’s not paranoia. It’s recognition of their situation.”

— From a 1990 interview with The Paris Review

3. On limiting how her politics influence her characters

“You know the myth: Everybody had to fit into Procrustes’ bed and if they didn’t, he either stretched them or cut off their feet. I’m not interested in cutting the feet off my characters or stretching them to make them fit my certain point of view.”

— From a 1997 interview with Mother Jones

4. On so-called “pretty” works of literature

“I don’t know whether there are any really pretty novels … All of the motives a human being may have, which are mixed, that’s the novelists’ material. … We like to think of ourselves as really, really good people. But look in the mirror. Really look. Look at your own mixed motives. And then multiply that.”

— From a 2010 interview with The Progressive

5. On the artist’s relationship with her fans

“The artist doesn’t necessarily communicate. The artist evokes … [It] actually doesn’t matter what I feel. What matters is how the art makes you feel.”

— From a 2004 interview with The Guardian

6. On the challenges of writing non-fiction

“When I was young I believed that ‘nonfiction’ meant ‘true.’ But you read a history written in, say, 1920 and a history of the same events written in 1995 and they’re very different. There may not be one Truth—there may be several truths—but saying that is not to say that reality doesn’t exist.”

— From a 1997 interview with Mother Jones

7. On poetry

“The genesis of a poem for me is usually a cluster of words. The only good metaphor I can think of is a scientific one: dipping a thread into a supersaturated solution to induce crystal formation.”

— From a 1990 interview with The Paris Review

8. On being labeled an icon

“All these things set a standard of behavior that you don’t necessarily wish to live up to. If you’re put on a pedestal you’re supposed to behave like a pedestal type of person. Pedestals actually have a limited circumference. Not much room to move around.”

— From a 2013 interview with The Telegraph

9. On how we’re all born writers

“[Everyone] ‘writes’ in a way; that is, each person has a ‘story’—a personal narrative—which is constantly being replayed, revised, taken apart and put together again. The significant points in this narrative change as a person ages—what may have been tragedy at 20 is seen as comedy or nostalgia at 40.”

— From a 1990 interview with The Paris Review

10. On the oppression at the center of The Handmaid's Tale

“Nothing makes me more nervous than people who say, ‘It can’t happen here. Anything can happen anywhere, given the right circumstances.” 

— From a 2015 lecture to West Point cadets

11. On the discord between men and women

“‘Why do men feel threatened by women?’ I asked a male friend of mine. … ‘They’re afraid women will laugh at them,’ he said. ‘Undercut their world view.’ … Then I asked some women students in a poetry seminar I was giving, ‘Why do women feel threatened by men?’ ‘They’re afraid of being killed,’ they said.”

— From Atwood’s Second Words: Selected Critical Prose, 1960-1982

12. On the challenges of expressing oneself

“All writers feel struck by the limitations of language. All serious writers.”

— From a 1990 interview with The Paris Review

13. On selfies

“I say they should enjoy it while they can. You’ll be happy later to have taken pictures of yourself when you looked good. It’s human nature. And it does no good to puritanically say, ‘Oh, you shouldn’t be doing that,’ because people do.”

— From a 2013 interview with The Telegraph

14. On the value of popular kids' series (à la Harry Potter and Percy Jackson)

"It put a lot of kids onto reading; it made reading cool. I’m sure a lot of later adult book clubs came out of that experience. Let people begin where they are rather than pretending that they’re something else, or feeling that they should be something else."

— From a 2014 interview with The Huffington Post

15. On why even the bleakest post-apocalyptic novels are, deep down, full of hope

“Any novel is hopeful in that it presupposes a reader. It is, actually, a hopeful act just to write anything, really, because you’re assuming that someone will be around to [read] it.”

— From a 2011 interview with The Atlantic 

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China's New Tianjin Binhai Library is Breathtaking—and Full of Fake Books
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A massive new library in Tianjin, China, is gaining international fame among bibliophiles and design buffs alike. As Arch Daily reports, the five-story Tianjin Binhai Library has capacity for more than 1 million books, which visitors can read in a spiraling, modernist auditorium with floor-to-ceiling bookshelves.

Several years ago, municipal officials in Tianjin commissioned a team of Dutch and Japanese architects to design five new buildings, including the library, for a cultural center in the city’s Binhai district. A glass-covered public corridor connects these structures, but the Tianjin Binhai Library is still striking enough to stand out on its own.

The library’s main atrium could be compared to that of the Frank Lloyd Wright-designed Guggenheim Museum in New York City. But there's a catch: Its swirling bookshelves don’t actually hold thousands of books. Look closer, and you’ll notice that the shelves are printed with digital book images. About 200,000 real books are available in other rooms of the library, but the jaw-dropping main room is primarily intended for socialization and reading, according to Mashable.

The “shelves”—some of which can also serve as steps or seating—ascend upward, curving around a giant mirrored sphere. Together, these elements resemble a giant eye, prompting visitors to nickname the attraction “The Eye of Binhai,” reports Newsweek. In addition to its dramatic main auditorium, the 36,000-square-foot library also contains reading rooms, lounge areas, offices, and meeting spaces, and has two rooftop patios.

Following a three-year construction period, the Tianjin Binhai Library opened on October 1, 2017. Want to visit, but can’t afford a trip to China? Take a virtual tour by checking out the photos below.

A general view of the Tianjin Binhai Library
FRED DUFOUR/AFP/Getty Images

People visiting China's Tianjin Binhai Library.
FRED DUFOUR/AFP/Getty Images

A general view of China's Tianjin Binhai Library.
FRED DUFOUR/AFP/Getty Images

A woman taking pictures at China's Tianjin Binhai Library.
FRED DUFOUR/AFP/Getty Images

A man visiting China's Tianjin Binhai Library.
FRED DUFOUR/AFP/Getty Images

A woman looking at books at China's Tianjin Binhai Library.
FRED DUFOUR/AFP/Getty Images

A general view of China's Tianjin Binhai Library.
FRED DUFOUR/AFP/Getty Images

People visiting China's Tianjin Binhai Library.
FRED DUFOUR/AFP/Getty Images

[h/t Newsweek]

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