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Winding Oak's Bookology Magazine

Pulling Radishes, Thinking About Books

bk_Mrs.-Piggle-Wiggle_140pxIn the garden this week I am pulling radishes. Weeds, too, and maybe that’s why I appreciate the small, crisp, spicy little radishes. Pulling those rosy red globes out of the black dirt makes me think of one of my favorite books from childhood: Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle. 

I have especially vivid memories of my third grade teacher reading us the Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle books by Betty MacDonald. Mrs. Plano was a completely joyless teacher who should have retired eighty years before I had her. I marvel—and remain grateful—such a grim woman read us such fanciful books.

Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle lived in an upside-down house and possessed amazing and creative ways of “curing” children of absolutely-normal-but-less-than-desirable behaviors. Mrs. Plano was always quick to notice less-than-desirable-behaviors, so maybe that’s why she picked up the books. She obviously did not agree with Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle’s methods. Her reading was often accompanied by eyerolls. But she read us the entire series, and I remain grateful.

Book after book, chapter after chapter, frantic mothers call Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle, wringing their hands about their children. Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle laughs (in a nice way) at their concerns and prescribes an odd but always effective cure for the problem at hand. She then assures the anxious mother her child is delightful and all will be well. Some of Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle’s cures involve magic, but many are just common sense…with a dash of creativity. Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle herself brings out the kids’ better angels, which figures into some of the cures, as well; I always thought Mrs. Plano could learn something there.

One of my favorite Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle stories is The Radish Cure; hence, the memory while pulling radishes this week. This is not a story about getting kids to eat radishes—it’s much more interesting than that. The Radish Cure is about Patsy Waters’ unwillingness to bathe. The Other Mothers are of no help. (A treat of reading these books as an adult is the caricatures of The Other Mothers.) Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle counsels Patsy’s distraught mother to buy a package of radish seeds and just let Patsy go without a bath. Once Patsy was good and covered with a layer of dirt and grime, which, as every parent knows, takes very little time at all, Patsy’s mother and father sneak into her room and sprinkle radish seeds on their filthy sleeping daughter. And the radishes GROW!

Patsy Waters “awoke one morning, and there on the back of her hand, in fact on the back of both hands and her arms and on her FOREHEAD were GREEN LEAVES!” Today’s child rearing gurus would call this natural consequences. Of a sort, anyway. Patsy’s mother calmly pulls the small red radishes out of the dirt on her daughter causing Patsy to beg for a bath. “I think it had better be a shower,” says her mother.

The Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle books are definitely a product of their time. When I read them to my kids, stereotypes had to be explained and addressed, as did the hard and fast traditional gender-roles, which are very hard and fast. (Making it all the more interesting that Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle and her husband, Mr. Piggle-Wiggle sport a hyphenated last name—perhaps if they rhymed, this was okay?)

Despite the time-bound issues, the problems Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle is called upon by the mothers (always the mothers) to cure are perennial: The Answer-Backer Cure, The Won’t-Pick-Up-Toys Cure, The Tattletale Cure, The I-Thought-You-Saiders Cure, The Show-Off Cure, The Can’t-Find-It Cure, etc. These are the lessons of childhood then and now, are they not?

If you haven’t read them to the kids in your life, pick them up this summer—they are a hoot!

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5 Responses to Pulling Radishes, Thinking About Books

  1. gardenlearning June 12, 2014 at 9:14 am #

    Funny – I have seen these books for years. Never read them as a kid! I may have to spend an afternoon exploring them.

  2. David LaRochelle June 15, 2014 at 9:20 pm #

    Oh, I loved those books! The radish cure was a favorite of mine, which I’ve remembered for over 40 years, as well as the tattle-tale cure. Thank goodness for my teachers who read to me stories like Mr. Popper’s Penguins, The Marvelous Land of Oz (the sequel to the Wizard of Oz), and Jonathan Livingston Seagull (that was from my 6th grade teacher). Kids will remember the books that are read to them long after they’ve forgotten most things that are found on standardized tests.

    • Melanie Hill June 16, 2014 at 7:43 am #

      I think you are absolutely right, David–kids WILL remember the books. My teachers read to us EVERY day after lunch and recess. For a good half hour or more. My kids have not had that experience, which I think is very sad. My heart is with both kids and teachers–my guess is teachers would rather read-a-loud than prep for tests!

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