Missy Piggle-Wiggle and the Whatever Cure by Ann M. Martin with Annie Parnell; illustrated by Ben Hatke; Feiwel and Friends, $16.99. 242 pages Ages 8 to 11.
Talented children’s author Ann Martin breathes new life into a beloved tradition in this funny, charming and clever recasting of Betty MacDonald’s “Mrs. Piggle Wiggle” character in a spinoff series featuring her great-niece who takes over the task of curing children of their bad behavior. (Co-author Parnell is MacDonald’s great-granddaughter.) The upside-down house, Wag the dog, Penelope the parrot and the rest of Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle’s menagerie are just as we remember. Martin follows in MacDonald’s style of coming up with very funny, evocative names (Petulance Freeforall, Heavenly Earwig, Trillium Tickle). Unlike the clunky stories in a 2007 publication “Happy Birthday, Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle” featuring a previously unpublished story and new ones by MacDonald’s daughter, these are fresh and new and do not seem at all dated. Perpetually tardy Heavenly Earwig for example is absentmindedly dreaming about “what fun it would be to have a pet possum. A giant flying possum that could give her rides around the neighborhood.” Or Heavenly again, after school, staring at an ant in the grass. “If humans had the strength of ants, they could carry boulders and apartment buildings around on their backs.” The cures are timeless: for greediness, tardiness, self-centered-ness, know-it-all-ness. “The Gum-Smacking Cure” is a particularly hilarious story poking fun at 21st century parenting as Hannaford and Marielle Pettigrew deprive their only child of junk food, television, action figures and other “bad influences” (“They gave him organic, sugar-free low-fat yogurt and called it ice cream”) only to find him suddenly bewitched by chewing gum from a gift bag at a friend’s birthday party. Refreshingly, parents, here, are sometimes in need of a cure, as the Freeforalls get their comeuppance for neglecting their children in favor of working all the time. The stories are beautifully written (the cat “twined about her ankles”). Hatke’s droll cartoons are perfect; the illustrators of the original series were Maurice Sendak and Hilary Knight. A second Missy Piggle-Wiggle book will follow next fall.
– Jean Westmoore
A Child of Books by Oliver Jeffers, Sam Winston; Candlewick Press, $17.99.
“I am a child of books. I come from a world of stories.” Thus begins a wondrous ode to the magic of storytelling, as a child sets out to explore the world, a magical typographic landscape of mountains and ocean waves, forests, even a haunted castle crafted from artfully arranged passages from classic literature. “And upon my imagination I float” shows a girl sailing across waves of words, excerpts from “The Voyage of Doctor Dolittle,” “Robinson Crusoe,” “Gulliver’s Travels” (the titles in bold print) and more. In “I have sailed across a sea of words,” the girl invites a boy along for the journey from atop a giant wave built of “Gulliver’s Travels,” “The Swiss Family Robinson,” “The Adventures of Pinocchio.” On a page, “Some people have forgotten where I live,” the two children peek through a window at a frowning bespectacled old man, with numbers imprinted on his glasses, as he reads a newspaper with headlines “Important Things,” “Serious Stuff,” “The Facts.” Entire pages are devoted to “Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland” and “Peter and Wendy.” Black and white gradually gives way to a riot of color as this marvelous book concludes with the words “For imagination is free.”
– Jean Westmoore