Annie Parnell is the great-granddaughter of Betty MacDonald who is the creator of the original Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle book series. Annie has joined forces with author Ann M. Martin (The Baby-Sitter’s Club series) to create a modern-day take on the original series that has young Missy Piggle-Wiggle stepping into her great-aunt Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle’s shoes. Missy Piggle-Wiggle and the Won’t Walk the Dog Cure will be published on September 5, 2017 by Feiwel & Friends, an imprint of Macmillan Children’s Publishing Group.
The following is a complete transcript of Annie’s interview with Cracking the Cover.
Why do you write?
Writing, for me, is like daycare for my brain. I have these ideas tumbling around in there; they keep me awake at night and tug at me all day until I let them out to play and wear them out. Sometimes I have thoughts about what’s going on in the world, and writing is a way to help clarify my concerns and ideas, and point me in a more effective direction. Sometimes they’re fantasies of fiction – stemming from the big “what if?” – that I need to play out on the page or they’ll never give me any peace.
Why specifically for young readers?
Honestly, the young reader is a new audience for me. My background is in TV series and my writing style tends to be more grown up, so working with Ann over the past few years has been a master class of sorts and has really helped me to better understand the ins and outs of this genre. This experience made me a much more discerning consumer when it comes to finding titles for my own kids to read.
How did the reboot of Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle come about?
It really comes down to one person, Rachel Miller. Without her, Missy likely would never have existed. She is an excellent talent manager in Hollywood, who has worked with my husband for years. Not incidentally, she is also an avid, borderline pathological, life-long fan of Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle. When she learned I had the rights and was taking the original series out to production companies, she all but stalked me via my husband, and it was her idea to create a new series of books. I got the enthusiastic blessings of my grandmother. Rachel connected me with Mollie Glick, my extraordinary lit agent, and the three of us met and discussed what this new series might look like. I bounced around a number of ideas, but when I came up with the concept of Missy as the young protege of Mrs. Piggle Wiggle, I think we all knew this was the idea that had legs.
I had written a proposal which Mollie shared with Jean Feiwel (of Feiwel and Friends/Macmillan). Jean has worked with Ann for years, and in her brilliance proposed the partnership. Naturally I was nervous about bringing someone else in, especially a huge name in middle grade like Ann, for fear they would not heed my concerns and take the new books in a direction that had little to do with the originals. However, after meeting everyone in New York, it became very clear that they cared as much about getting this right as I did – that’s all I could really hope for.
Take me through the collaborative process.
Using my proposal as a starting document, much of that New York meeting was dedicated to hammering out much of the bigger picture ideas for this series, so that by the time we left we were all on the same page. I sent Ann a few documents with cure ideas I had been collecting, and she and I corresponded a fair amount via e-mail as she crafted the outline. Once there was an outline that we all agreed to, Ann did what she does so brilliantly – she sat down and wrote the manuscript. At this point Jean, Liz (Szabla, the editor) and Ann no longer had a contractual obligation to get my approval, but to their credit they came to me anyway and worked really hard to ensure Missy had a voice that was reflective of what makes Mrs. Piggle Wiggle so great, and I couldn’t be happier with where we ended up. Once we had a really solid first book, the process has only gotten easier and the books have only gotten better, which is a testament to what a great talent Ann is.
The Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle books are classics — I still have my dog-eared copies. Was there any trepidation taking on such a beloved world?
That’s awesome, you and Rachel should compare copies!
Of course I was nervous, but I would have been a lot more nervous about someone doing it without me. No matter what else I might have brought to this project, the voice of Mrs. Piggle Wiggle is as clear to me as my own mother’s or grandmother’s. So as we re-designed the world around Missy, I felt very confident I could help ensure we didn’t lose what made Mrs. Piggle Wiggle the kind of dog-eared, well-worn book that was held onto into adulthood.
Why do you think that your new books, as well as the original Piggle-Wiggle books resonate with young readers?
Because kids inherently want to be good, to see themselves as good, but being kids, it is inevitable that they will do things that get them in trouble. Unlike so many of the stories kids are exposed to, Mrs. and Missy Piggle Wiggle don’t equate bad behavior with being bad. They understand it is just what kids are going to do, how they are going to learn about the world, and where they stand in it. I think there’s a great deal of comfort in that for kids. And then, of course, the stories are really funny. Seeing these misbehaving kids suffer the consequences of their own actions in a way that’s funny, and never feels mean-spirited, is satisfying even for adults.
Missy Piggle-Wiggle and the Won’t-Walk-the-Dog Cure is the second Missy book. Do you have more planned?
Yep, at least one more Missy book will be hitting the shelves in September of 2018!
What are you working on now?
I’ve got a few projects in the works but most notable is that we are in the very early stages of working on an animated series of Missy Piggle Wiggle.
Is there a book from your own youth that still resonates with you today? Why?
Not exactly. For a million reasons that would take an entire article to explore, I did not care for reading when I was younger. It wasn’t until middle school that I found a passion for it. My mother (in what may have been an act of brilliance or desperation) handed me a couple sci-fi books (Stranger in a Strange Land by Robert A. Heinlein and Titan by John Varley). The books themselves don’t stand out for me so much as what put them in my hands. My mother saw my passion for science and all things space, and she also wanted me to love reading. She had tried in vain to get me to read her childhood favorites (Nancy Drew, Anne of Green Gables), but I was having none of it. So instead of trying to continue to force me to get excited about things that didn’t interest me, she found books that did. This is what resonates with me today, and as a mother I have taken that lesson to heart to help my children find a passion for reading, and they have.