Ben Hatke, author and illustrator of the Zita the Space Girl graphic novel series, will create covers and interior artwork for a new Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle series, to be written by Newbery Honor author Ann M. Martin with Annie Parnell, the great-granddaughter of Betty MacDonald, who introduced Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle to the world in 1947. The cover art is revealed here for the first time.
Hatke joins a distinguished list of illustrators, including Hilary Knight and Maurice Sendak, who have brought the character’s escapades to life. “It’s such an honor to be asked to be involved with something that Maurice Sendak once did, too,” said Hatke. “He’s always been a hero of mine.”
In the new series, Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle has left her Upside-Down House and the animals that live there in the care of her twenty-something niece, Missy, when she leaves to search for her husband, a pirate. Luckily for the town’s families, Missy Piggle-Wiggle is capable of concocting the same sort of inventive cures for bad behavior that made her aunt an indispensable community resource.
The first book, Missy Piggle-Wiggle and the Whatever Cure, will publish in September 2016. A second installment is due in 2017.
Hatke had previously illustrated a middle-grade novel (The Worm Whisperer by Betty Hicks) but says the inspiration for Missy Piggle-Wiggle began with the heroine of Julia’s House for Lost Creatures (First Second, 2014), his first picture book.
“Julia is much smaller but she is not dissimilar from Missy in a lot of ways, so that was my starting point,” Hatke said. “My process with characters is to draw them over and over again until they become who they are supposed to be. You see this in a lot of people’s work. If you look at Calvin from Calvin and Hobbes, he looks completely different in the early strips than he does by the end, but by the end, he definitely looks more like himself.”
Hatke says he was familiar with the original Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle because his parents read the stories aloud to his sisters. He also grew up in an old Victorian house in Lafayette, Ind., that “has the same kind of ceilings as Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle’s. It would be a fun house to walk upside down in, especially with all the winding staircases.”
He accepted the assignment after conferring with his wife, who also acts as his manager. “I have a very busy year with my own books but when I told her about it she said, ‘You should do that,’ ” Hatke said. He also got the seal of approval from his daughters, the ones old enough to weigh in, anyway. (He has five, ages eigh months to 13 years.) “They also manage me,” he said. “They check on my projects as I work and they ask very helpful questions which always make the books stronger.”
The finished books will have an illustration per chapter, some in color and some in a black-and-white ink wash.
The original Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle series has sold millions of copies internationally since its debut, nearly 70 years ago. Parnell, who works in television production, came up with the concept for extending the series as a way of honoring her own childhood, which was infused with Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle magic.
“As a child, I assumed everyone had families this zany, creative, and loving. As an adult I now realize how blessed I was,” Parnell said. “To me, a young Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle isn’t so much a practice in imaginative thinking, as she is a remembrance of a long-lost relative. A relative I wish for every child to know.”