I was lucky to grow up a home where reading was given high priority. My parents read to my brother and I, and books were regular gifts at birthdays and holidays. To this day, I can go to my bookshelf, flip open any of my childhood books and find the inscription from my parents or grandparents. I loved hearing my Mom and Dad read Little Women, Black Beauty, Charlotte’s Web, and the Little House Books. However, it was the stories of Mrs. Piggle Wiggle which I asked for over and over. The Piggle Wiggle stories had a magical power which lasted long after the story ended and they fascinated me.
Who can forget, Mrs. Foxglove baking her thick chewy chocolaty nutty brownies for crybaby Melody? Or Evelyn Rover, Marcy Crackle, and poor little Cornelia Whitehouse eating whisper sticks? Or the story which horrified me the most—Patsy and her dirty arms that grew radishes! I loved the magic of Mrs. Piggle Wiggle and her ability to find a solution for every childhood problem.
Mrs. Piggle Wiggle lived in her upside down house with her dog, Wag, and her cat, Lighfield. Children loved Mrs. Piggle Wiggle and Mrs. Piggle Wiggle loved them. But, she says “grown-ups make her nervous.” As a child, I wanted nothing more than to have my own neighborhood Mrs. Piggle Wiggle. I spent hours walking home from school and studying each house to imagine who might be a Mrs. Piggle Wiggle. The house which, I thought, might come close was the home of a third grade teacher. She was very tall, lived alone in her small house and owned a couple of cats. If anyone seemed they might be able to possess the magic of Mrs. Piggle Wiggle, it was her.
As I grew older, my reading habits soon outgrew Mrs. Piggle Wiggle and I moved onto the “problem” novels of the 1980s. These were novels about issues such as alcoholism, divorce, and scoliosis. Some of my favorites included, Tiger Eyes by Judy Blume, The Late Great Me by Sandra Scoppettone, and Deenie by Judy Blume. By this time, I knew Mrs. Piggle Wiggle was never going to come out of the pages of her stories, but reading became my Mrs. Piggle Wiggle medicine as I struggled to find answers to my family’s problems = problems which I didn’t want to share with my friends or a school guidance counselor, but I could find in the pages of my novels. Reading those ’80s problem novels gave me insight into how a character solved a problem, and most importantly, the issues were named and gave me the hope that the secrets I’d been keeping about my family could also be named.
The medicine of reading stayed with me into my career of writing for children. A few years ago, I volunteered to facilitate a poetry workshop with teens in a juvenile detention center. I was just beginning my writing career, and I’d always been interested in working with kids in detention. The first couple of years, the poetry workshop was based on the work of Richard Gold at Pongo Publishing in the King County Detention Center in Seattle. In the workshop, we read and wrote poetry about the youth’s experiences. However, gradually, I expanded the workshop to include young adult novels with characters and issues that the kids were facing. Some of their favorites have included Crank and Glass by Ellen Hopkins and Perfect Chemistry by Simone Elkeles. (The entire list of YA novels and memoirs used in the poetry workshop can be seen at our blog: www.denneypoetry.com). After the kids read the books, so many times they say, “That character is just like me! They’re doing things I do!”
When I wrote my second book, a young adult novel entitled, Weaving Magic, the voices of the teens at the poetry workshop crept into my writing. Weaving Magic is the story of sixteen-year-old Christopher who is fighting to stay sober while fifteen-year-old Shantel is struggling in the aftermath of her mother’s death and seeking refuge in a fantasy world. But the unacknowledged roots of their problems refuse to stay buried and soon, the two are headed toward a deadly magic trick. One of the themes I explored in Weaving Magic was the idea of starting a new life clean and sober as a teen. So many of the teens in detention want to live a different life, but find it extremely challenging when they return to their schools and communities.
When I sit at my writing desk, I think of Mrs. Piggle Wiggle. I may not always write the magical stories of Mrs. Piggle Wiggle, but I do hope to bring a little bit of that Mrs. Piggle Wiggle story magic and medicine to the teens in my stories.
Mindy Hardwick’s tween novel, Stained Glass Summer, published December 2011, and her young adult romance, Weaving Magic, published in April 2012. When Mindy is not writing, she facilitates a poetry workshop with teens at Denney Youth Juvenile Justice Center. The youth’s poems can be seen at www.denneypoetry.com.Mindy is a frequent school and library presenter and included on the Washington State Arts Commission Teaching Artist Roster. You can learn more about her at www.mindyhardwick.com, follow her on Twitter @mindyhardwick or read her blog: www.mindyhardwick.wordpress.com