Missy Piggle-Wiggle and the Whatever Cure, written by Ann M. Martin with Annie Parnell, illustrated by Ben Hatke
published in 2016 by Feiwel and Friends
How many of you have read Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle? If you have, I’m guessing a warm wave of happiness just washed over you!
For those of you unacquainted with her, Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle is the short, plumpish little woman who lives in an upside-down house full of marvels, fresh baked cookies, and magical cures for ill-behaved children. She’s one of the most beloved characters in children’s literature, having made her first appearance in 1947, in Betty MacDonald’s collection of chapter books about her.
With her wise notions and secret potions Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle is always the right person to call on whether children suffer from resisting baths, tattling, or downright selfishness. Her clever cures work like a charm every time! You can read more about her in my earlier review of that book here.
Now, almost 70 years later, Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle’s grand-niece has arrived on the scene to welcome a whole new batch of children into that magical home. It seems that Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle has finally decided to find out what happened to her mysterious pirate-husband who’s been missing ever-so-long, and has left the house in charge of Missy.
Sequels written by others can be touchy things. Putting such a beloved person as Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle into another’s hand for potential mistreatment — that raises the hackles on any bonafide booklover, right? Well, rest easy. The skillful Ann M. Martin has beautifully handed over the keys of the house to this newcomer and written an excellent first entry into what I’m hoping will be several episodes.
As a matter-of-fact, I think Martin anticipates the trepidation of long-time fans. The House itself is decidedly mistrustful of Missy upon her arrival, employing all the underhanded tricks a House might have up its sleeve in order to propel her right back where she came from. As our hearts warm towards Missy, so does the House, and we all wind up happily, comfortably, nestled in together.
Missy has her own set of ill behaviors to cure in the children she meets, including greediness, gum-smacking, the ol’ just-one-more-minute-itis, and a know-it-all who needs setting straight. She tackles them with the same mix of gravity and kindness as her great-aunt, winning the trust of the townful of children and their parents. There’s also a blush of romance between Missy and the awkward young bookseller in town, Harold Spectacle, just to sweeten the deal.
Ben Hatke brings these characters into the 21st century beautifully as well, with his knack for infusing personality into his figures. He mixes the freshness needed by a new generation of readers with a lovely old-fashioned sensibility that respects the atmosphere of both the original stories and this new batch. Just look at that enticing cover!
I heartily recommend you read the original story first. No need to read all five of those previous books, but do read Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle. Then dip into this new installment for a delightful treat. Great read-alouds for a wide age-range, or trusted staples for independent readers ages 7 and up.
Here’s the Amazon link: Missy Piggle Wiggle and the Whatever Cure
Today I have two more excellent nativity tellings to offer you, widely differing in style and substance.
First, coming from the UK, is this poignant, thought-provoking version…
Refuge, written by Anna Booth, illustrated by Sam Usher
published in 2015 by Nosy Crow
I bought this small book last year, but had to order it from the UK. This year, you can purchase it in the U.S. as well, and I hope you do!
Anna Booth’s telling of the Nativity is different from any you’ve read before. The baby is born on page two! Rather than dwelling on all the events leading up to the birth of Christ, the bulk of this story focuses on what happened afterwards.
Very lightly touching on shepherds and kings, the text pushes forward to Joseph’s “dream of danger” and the secretive, long, worrisome journey out from Bethlehem into a land of strangers, seeking — and finding — refuge.
Yes, the Holy Family were refugees! What an immensely important connection for us to make. Booth accomplishes this with grace and finesse. Not a heavy, clobbering word will you find. Instead, her economical, gentle text carries a lovely sense of humanity, tenderness, empathy.
It’s illustrated by Sam Usher in his marvelously-loose, quiet, ink-and-watercolor illustrations. I love his work! Here he brings a hush to the town of Bethlehem, immense warmth to the family, and solemn vastness to the star-studded night skies. It’s definitely one of my new favorite Nativity stories. Ages 2 and older.
Here’s the Amazon link: Refuge
The Nativity, retold and illustrated by Julie Vivas
first published in Australia in 1986; this edition 2006 by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
A dear friend of mine introduced me to this telling of the Nativity (Thank you, Christine!) which features a Mary who is truly great with child! I love this real-mama interpretation.
The retelling is nimbly done using phrases from the King James Version of the Bible, pared down a bit in order to move things along and lessen the cumbersome nature of the language.
Vivas’ vision of these events is at once earthy and whimsical. I love her rounded, very physical bodies, exuding the true humanity of this small family, rustic shepherds, eager sages, and sweet, unmistakably-male, baby.
The color palette is strikingly different from traditional versions, with loads of pastel Easter-y tints predominating. And Vivas does not constrain herself to historically-accurate images. Ancient mid-Eastern architecture cozies up to Jesus in his stripey footie-jammies.
Her levity is at its height in her portrayal of the angels, which I’m not in love with, but then, I’m remarkably picky about angels. I do love that there’s nary a blond hair to be seen on all the pages! Ages 2 and up.
Here’s the Amazon link: The Nativity
Both of these untraditional, very human approaches to the story will surely appeal to kids who have heard this story a hundred times and offer them fresh perspectives.
There are almost 2 dozen more Nativity stories listed in my Subject Index under Holidays — Christmas. They’re marked with a diamond.
Because my roots are in Sweden and Finland, I’m quite partial to Christmas stories coming from the Scandinavian region.
Previously I’ve posted some of my favorites, which you can find via the links at the end of today’s post. Today I have five more.
These titles are a bit obscure here in the U.S. but if you are really motivated, I think you can find them.
Erik and the Christmas Horse, written by Hans Peterson, illustrated by Ilon Wikland, translated by Christine Hyatt
first published in Sweden in 1968; first American edition 1970 by Lothrop, Lee & Shepard Co.
It’s December 13, St. Lucy’s Day, and Erik is perched at his window in the city of Göteborg (Gothenburg) thrilled that it is finally snowing. He’s been dreaming of building a snowman and maybe even an igloo if enough snow comes down.
As he heads out to school for the day, Erik meets up with old Mr. Lindberg and his cart-horse Mari who are delivering packages. These two are dear friends of Erik’s and he greets them warmly. But Mr. Lindberg says a strange thing: “You’re lucky, Erik. You can run upstairs to your mother’s kitchen and get warm. But it’s not so good for many other people who have nowhere to live.”
Thoughts of unsheltered people, and especially worries that Mr. Lindberg himself and that good horse, Mari, have nowhere but a bush to sleep under at night, plague Erik throughout the day. When he encounters Mr. Lindberg again after school, Erik generously invites him to their home for Christmas.
Watch as Mr. Lindberg gently helps Erik see that he does indeed have his own home, even while his heart is warmed, as is ours, by Erik’s tender concern and generosity. It’s a lovely story, illustrated by Ilon Wikland’s gorgeous, charming watercolors. Ages 3 and up.
Christmas Eve at Santa’s, written by Alf Prøysen, illustrated by Jens Ahlbom, translated by Richard E. Fisher
originally published in Sweden 1971; this edition 1992 by R&S Books
Carpenter Anderson lives in a Carl Larson-esque house with his many children. It’s Christmas Eve, and while his wife and kids gather round the warm hearth, cracking nuts and playing games, Carpenter Anderson tiptoes out to the woodshed.
That’s where he’s stashed his Santa suit and a wooden sled loaded down with “a big sack full of Christmas presents.” When Anderson starts across his icy yard, though, his feet go out from under him and with a flop and a whoosh he’s riding that sled down the road, smack into another sled. This one is steered by a little, white-bearded fellow. Calls himself Santa Claus. Anderson goes along with the joke.
Santa suggests swapping places for a bit. Anderson can visit his children, and he’ll visit Anderson’s with the presents. Anderson agrees to this, though he doesn’t have anything to give Santa’s children. “Aren’t you a carpenter?” asks Santa. He’s quite sure that with some wood, nails, and a knife, Anderson can come up with some gifts for the Claus household.
Carpenter Anderson does indeed come up with some beautiful gifts for Mrs. Santa and the elf children. He’s that clever with a piece of wood! It’s quite a Christmas Eve for all concerned.
This is a happy, imaginative story, illustrated in warm, fetching watercolors that include many quaint Scandinavian touches. A treat for ages 4 and up.
Lotta’s Christmas Surprise, written by Astrid Lindgren, illustrated by Ilon Wikland
originally published in Sweden in 1977; first English translation, 1978; this edition 1990 by R&S Books
We have thoroughly enjoyed the stories of the irrepressible, unruly Lotta and her siblings, Jonas and Maria, though they are less well known in the U.S. Lotta has a big heart, which puts her bullheadedness and peevishness in perspective at the end of the day. She’s a lovable little rascal.
It’s Christmastime which means — of course! — time to get a tree from the market. So imagine the numb despair when Dad shares the bad news that “there’s not a Christmas tree for sale in the whole town.” Seems that heavy snows made it difficult to trundle as many trees out of the forest and the shopkeepers in the square are plum sold out. Nothing anyone can do about it.
Christmas without a tree is a glum prospect. Lotta, however, has been boasting recently about the fact that she can do anything. “I can do anything — almost!” she announces over and over to her underwhelmed family. Now Jonas lays down the gauntlet: “You said you could do anything, Lotta, so get us a Christmas tree.”
You’ll enjoy this long-ish story of the small-but-determined Lotta and how she manages to procure a tree for her family. Illustrated by Ilon Wikland — my edition is in full color. So much happiness plus the charm of a Swedish household — I spy lingonberries spilling over the pancakes! Ages 3 and up.
Pippi Longstocking’s After-Christmas Party, written by Astrid Lindgren, illustrated by Michael Chesworth, translated by Stephen Keeler
originally published in Sweden in 1950; this edition published in 1996 by Viking
Surely you all know Pippi Longstocking, that feisty, unconventional lass from Villa Villekulla. This story was written by Lindgren shortly after the original book was published, but was not translated into English for more than 40 years.
The translator notes that one Swedish tradition is the plundering of the Christmas tree before it is taken down. All those gingerbread hearts and baskets of goodies that decorate the tree are gathered up by the children. That’s the cultural background for Pippi hosting this splendid After-Christmas party.
She invites all the kids in town, of course. Pippi doesn’t do anything half way. When they arrive, there’s such a tree to behold! Blazing with huge candles, covered with “great big gingerbread men and huge baskets made of tin foil and enormous twists of toffee and, of course, lovely Christmas crackers that you pull at each end.” And dozens of jolly presents!
But that’s not all. There’s an igloo to gather in for hot chocolate and cream cake, and a crazy-steep sledding hill…off the roof! Pippi delights in providing for all her friends, as well as a little newcomer who wanders shyly in. It’s an extraordinarily merry party that should set visions of sugarplums dancing in your heads! Ages 4 and up.
Tomten’s Christmas Porridge, written and illustrated by Sven Nordqvist, translated by Arden Haug
first published in Sweden in 1991; published in the U.S. in 1991 by Skandisk
If you’re at all familiar with Scandinavian lore, you’ll have heard of the tomtens, wee folk who live on Swedish farms watching over the welfare of man and beast. They’re secretive. Never seen by humans. Yet every Christmas Eve the farm family sets out a bowl of creamy, sweet Christmas porridge as a sort of tip of the hat to their tomten. A thanks for his protection.
If that porridge isn’t delivered, you’d better watch out because all out of keeping with his size is a tomten’s temper! If he’s overlooked on Christmas Eve, he’s sure to visit mischief and trouble of one sort and another on the farm.
Yet that’s exactly what’s about to happen on little Anna’s farm this Christmas. Mamma tomten can feel it in her bones. The family is growing away from tradition. They’re talking about a fellow named Santa Claus, for goodness sake! And forgetting all about tomtens. Pappa tomten is sure to strew unhappiness about the farm for the whole next year unless that porridge appears. Can Mamma tomten figure out a way to make everyone happy?
This exciting adventure is accompanied by Haug’s thoroughly-Swedish illustrations. Warm interiors of pine, woven linens, candlelight, julboks, ginger hearts, and round rye loaves hanging to dry adorn these pages. Plus lots of darling, red-capped tomten children. It’s a longish story. Read it aloud with children ages 4 and up.
And here are some other Scandinavian Christmas stories I’ve previously reviewed:
Use your gift-giving to tantalize kids with a variety of creative pursuits! This year I have extra items suited to kids ages 5-12, a time when electronic devices too often begin to usurp imaginative pursuits as fast as the sun melts butter.
Stem the tide! Keep them living juicy, creative lives!
Play with Color!
Hilarious! Watch your baby create some abstract art with this genius bib!
Crayons rock…and now there are crayon rocks! Don’t they look lovely to work with?
I love these people paints encouraging children to incorporate the whole, real, human race in their artwork.
How magical to color your own set of beautiful, wearable, butterfly wings!
Rosie Flo coloring books charmingly combine drawing and coloring. This set features fantastical animal couture! Lots more themes to choose from.
To the Ocean Deep coloring book by Sarah Yoon unfolds to create a marvelously l-o-n-g, deep, underwater journey.
For younger artists, unroll a jolly picture to color with these paper rolls from Mudpuppy.
Build cool stuff!
This geyser car look like a blast — literally! Wild, fizzy thrills!
These clever chain reaction contraptions designed by Klutz to build from Legos will provide hours of fun and surely inspire more engineering.
My son built a rocket many years ago. So cool to build and so exciting to blast off!! Here’s a good beginner model.
Try this classic cookbook to introduce the joy of cooking to preschoolers. Nutritious. Vegetarian. Charming.
How much fun would it be to whip up some pumpkin pasties or Mrs Weasley’s meat pies? Enjoy some literary feasting, Potter-style.
Snazzy aprons make cooking even more fun! Handstand Kitchen has a great variety of kids aprons to choose from including this bake-me-a-cake print. Nice that they aren’t all frilly, for kids who aren’t at all frilly.
This small loom is perfect for getting started with a dynamic form of textile art.
Stitch up some charming woodland creatures with these beautiful kits.
Wool felting is responsible for so much beauty and delight in this world. Get started with this darling hedgehog kit.
Are you puzzled?
Block puzzles are super for the youngest puzzlers. This Eric Carle set would make a great take-along activity.
The lovely puzzles from eeboo make it exceedingly difficult to choose just one.
A double treat from Alain Grée. Winter on the front, summer on the back. Sounds like a tricky challenge!
My children’s homemade books are such treasures. Encourage your little ones to write and illustrate their own stories with this set of blank books.
Comics are being used to tell all manner of stories. Get your kids started by crafting some superhero comics.
Ideas galore to get young writer’s juices flowing. I would have loved this as a child…or maybe even now!
Have fun and enjoy the beauty of a worldful of faces.
This animal-stacking game from Haba looks like great fun for a wide age-range.
Keri Smith is the brilliant mind behind many books inspiring us to think outside the box. This one contains great out-and-about, investigate-and-create activities — enough to last a long time and inspire many more.
This water whistle from Cameroon is intriguing, and even young children can enjoy making music.
How about a cool thumb harp from Burkina Faso — make music and support local artisans.
Punch your own musical notations into the paper, then crank it through the music box mechanism. Brilliant idea for youthful composers.
Isn’t this doll pram gorgeous?
We had this set of blocks for our kids. They come in very handy for constructing villages along a wooden train set!
Find gobs more ideas by using the Gifts tab at the top of the page to search past years’ lists.
I’ll be back next week with a literary-themed gift list for young book-fans.
Long live imagination!
A Big P.S. — I have restarted my Amazon Affiliate program.
This means that if you use an Amazon link anywhere on my blog to direct you to their website, anything you purchase from them at that time will result in a wee kickback for me. It does not increase the cost of your item. Just deposits a few cents in my account. Think of it as a tip jar🙂
I would love if you would shop at your local, independent book stores instead of Amazon! However, I know that many of you do not live near any such thing, and for many of you the convenience of Amazon is what you need at any given moment. If you’re shopping at Amazon anyway — please consider linking through from my blog.
I worked extra hard to link directly to a variety of sites today in order to introduce you to folks who offer creative, non-electronic choices. I hope you enjoy perusing their collections. If it’s easier for you to purchase these products in one fell swoop from Amazon, many of them are available there as well.
I can only think of a handful of novels I’ve read with a sports theme. Not something that usually draws me in.
If you are like me in that regard, please do not overlook the titles I have for you today! Although these two novels surround us in athletic worlds, they go far beyond that as well, entering the lives of kids coping with tremendous struggles that are worthy of our attention. I found them both exceptional.
Okay, I rarely do this on my blog but I’m going to take issue with this book’s cover. The reason is that if you are anything like me, you have already been led astray as to who would like this book.
This book is a great read for boys (and girls) ages 9-12. So although the cover is beautiful, drawn by a crazy-talented illustrator — I think it will be a hard sell for that demographic. Which is really too bad because it’s a fantastic, important read. I hope I am dead wrong. And I sincerely apologize if I just wounded anyone. But I think it might take some extra strategizing to convince middle grade boys to pick this up.
Clearly this is a book about baseball and if you’re savvy you’ll also note the Islamic crescent moon there. That’s a great clue as to one of the reasons this book is such a timely, far-beyond-baseball read.
Bilal is a 10-year-old, Pakistani boy. He’s a member of a loving, tight-knit family living in Karachi, and he’s one of the best young cricket players around.
Life is jolted completely out of it’s socket, however, when his father, Baba, is summarily arrested. Just one day — boom — he disappears. When he returns three days later, Baba declares that “it is high time we leave Pakistan to live with your Hassan Uncle and Noor Auntie in America.” That’s a closely-guarded secret, though. No goodbyes allowed.
Baba is barred from leaving the country for an indefinite time, so Bilal, his mother, and his younger sister make the journey alone and begin the utterly-disorienting transition to a new language and culture. Lorenzi, who moved extensively in her childhood and has lived internationally, portrays the painful acculturation process masterfully.
Bilal’s changeover from cricket to the weird new game of baseball, his struggles with English idioms and new friendships, intensify his homesickness. That, compounded by profound worries over his father and the travel ban keeping him from them, is a great deal for a young boy to manage — but this is what so many newcomers to our schools and neighborhoods face every day. I love this window into their world.
Combining breezy middle-grade life, competitive sport, warm families, a serious treatment of Bilal’s Muslim faith, real anxieties affecting immigrants and refugees, light humor, a dash of girl-power, and a huge helping of culture clash — this is a complex, perfectly-paced, well-told story. With gobs of baseball, to boot. I hope your middle-graders will give this a whirl.
Jason Reynolds grabbed my attention with his gripping, co-authored novel, All-American Boys, which I reviewed here. I’ve been waiting to get my hands on this, his newest novel, written for a younger, middle-grade audience. It’s the first in a series about Track and a group of extraordinarily-talented kids aiming for the Junior Olympics.
Ghost is not one of those kids. Although he can run remarkably fast, Ghost just doesn’t see any point in sprinting around a circle, or toeing the line of some short, bald coach. Just stupidity, that is. Ghost runs fast because his life has depended on it. Literally.
Three years ago, when Ghost was a fourth-grader, his alcoholic father hit his worst mean streak ever. Pulled a gun on Ghost and his mom. Ghost has no problem recalling the fear of getting yanked out of bed, terrified, dumbfounded, as his dad, in his drunken rage, shot at them. And yes, he ran. Faster than he ever thought it was possible for legs to move. Think that’ll do something to your heart? Your soul?
When this angry kid encounters the track team, Coach sees his potential and signs him up. That’s a recipe for immense conflict for Ghost, both externally and internally, and this book does not sprint past the pain, stupid choices, mouthiness, and bad attitudes. Simultaneously, Ghost is a kid that gets under your skin. His wounds, shame, yearnings, love for his mom, conscience, good heart; the fragile person sheltering beneath a tough shell, all make us root for him. It’s an honest, no-nonsense, deeply empathetic look at the cost of betrayal and the tenacity required to heal.
Reynolds superbly establishes the contemporary urban setting. References to athletes like Usain Bolt and LeBron James also help create a strong, current feel. Expect a page-turner with a cliff-hanger ending. Pitch it to an older reluctant reader for sure, as well as boys and girls ages 10 and up. Perfect boys book club read.
Posted in fiction | Tagged athletes, baseball, book reviews, children's literature, coaching, cricket, culture shock, diversity, family dysfunction, immigrants, middle grade novels, Muslims, pakistan, sports, sprinters, track | Leave a Comment »