Monday, February 22, 2010

The Peppermint Pig

Finished The Peppermint Pig by Nina Bawden. Poll's father is wrongly accused of stealing from his place of work. He loses his job and decides to go to America to try his fortunes there. His wife and children leave their comfortable home in London and move in with Aunts Sarah and Henrietta in the country. Life is different, but not terrible. One day the milkman stops by and offers the family a piglet, the runt, too small to be raised by it's mother. They accept it and Poll and the new piglet, Johnnie, form a very close bond.

As Johnnie grows he becomes housebroken and acts much like a family dog. He follows mother on her daily shopping rounds, plays with all the children and sits and stares pensively into the fire. Before Poll and Johnnie met, Poll was not much of a student, but once she has something to look forward to and to be personally responsible for she becomes more focused and mature and begins to make friends at school.

Time passes and Poll wonders if her father will ever come home. She becomes seriously ill with scarlet fever. It takes her a long time to recover. When she is almost better one of her aunts takes her on a visit where she plays with a basketful of puppies. Her aunt tells her she can take one of the puppies home. Poll accepts the puppy, but is mystified. Her aunt says it's a birthday present, but her birthday has already happened.

Poll enjoys spending time with her new puppy and neglects Johnnie a bit. Johnnie is now huge and slow and not nearly as much fun as the puppy. One day Poll comes home from school and Johnnie is gone. He has been sent to the butcher. Mother owes the butcher money and has been having trouble making ends meet. Poll is stunned. She keeps saying "Everyone said Johnnie was different" and she had taken them at their word.

Poll cannot eat. She does not eat for seven days. One of her aunts takes her to the butcher shop to help her grasp the reality of the situation. Poll takes one look at the hanging carcasses and faints dead away.

This all sounds very cruel when I type it. In context it is not as harsh as it sounds. Poll's character, her thoughts and reactions to things are all so well drawn. It's obvious that Nina Bawden has a very strong memory of what is was like to be a child and feel that the whole world is working against you. Her book Carrie's War is one of my favorites.

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