The Peppermint Pig ISBN: 9780140309447
Published by Puffin, 1977
Set in the early days of the 20th Century, this moving, beautifully written novel tells of a loving family who just happen to have a pet pig. Johnnie is a 'peppermint pig' which means he is the runt of the litter, and only costs a shilling. But before Johnnie's advent, we have to meet the family. There are mother and father, George and Lily (who are older), and Theo and Poll, 13 and 9 respectively. Even though Theo is the older of the two, it is Poll who is feisty and stronger and not a little difficult with a temper to match. Most of the story is from her point of view. In the beginning they are all living in a nice house in a leafy suburb of London. Then things go seriously wrong and father must leave for America to work with his brother. Has he stolen money from the company he works for? We only find out later. Meanwhile, mother and the four children must sell up and go to Norfolk to live with father's two sisters, depending on them for most things. It is after they arrive that Johnnie joins the family - a tiny little pig who fits into a cup, he is soon a great pet, who lives in the house and eats scraps from the table. Poll is particularly fond of the little pig, and he of her. He walks around the small town with her and her mother, and soon everyone knows and enjoys Johnnie. There are lots of adventures to be had, quite different from their London life, and these things are wonderfully described - the harvest festival and fair, a scary moment when Poll thinks she has seen a ghost carriage, her serious and life-threatening bout of scarlet fever, skating on ice in the winter, the two aunts - so different in their ways but also loving and understanding - Poll's growing interest in the natural world and all around her, her realisation that she will always have to protect Theo who is clever but not 'sensible'. The characterisations are marvellous, and there are lots of them; all of them grow and learn, even the adults. Of course, in the end Johnnie was always intended for meat, and even though Poll has half understood this and the pig has grown big and fat and isn't so lovable anymore, she is so bereft that she stops eating, can't eat, is sick when she tries. Big brother George comes up with the perfect answer, and the gift of a puppy helps too. Father returns exonerated, and while we don't know if the family will return to London, they are a true family again (including the aunts) and there will be happiness. Brilliantly written, full of truth and sensitivity, this is one of the great children's novels of the last century.