The Peppermint Pig. Nina Bawden. (First published 1975)
It is a difficult year for the Greengrasses. Poll’s father has lost his job and gone overseas, the family are living off the charity of two aunts, and Poll and her brother Theo just can’t seem to keep out of trouble. It takes a tiny, mischievous pig to bring laughter back into their lives.
I picked up this book because I love pigs and I thought this cosy-looking children’s classic would be the perfect cheer-me-up book. I am not usually one to discourage people from reading a particular book, but if you are an animal lover, vegetarian, or sensitive soul, I would strongly advise you don’t read The Peppermint Pig. I am also not usually one for spoilers, but I am going to spoil the ending of this book in my review/discussion because I need to talk about it and vent my feelings. Look away now, if you don’t want to be spoiled.
So, just to give you a brief idea of why I was so upset by this book, let me give you a synopsis:
- Children’s dad loses his job. Dad goes off to America to try and make his fortune, leaving the rest of the family to move in with their aunts in a cramped cottage. They do not have much money.
- Family get a little pet pig called Johnnie who is so small he fits inside a pint glass. Johnnie is a mischievous pig with a penchant for Hot Cross Buns, and cheers the family up with his cheeky antics.
- Johnnie gets large and fat and too big for the house. Family gets a new puppy to distract the children from what is about to happen.
- Mum sends Johnnie to the butcher to be slaughtered.
DEAR GOD, WHAT A CRUEL AND BRUTAL WAY TO END A STORY. I had no idea how to rate this book out of five stars, so I ended up giving it no rating at all. I wanted to give it 1 star, but I felt it would be unfair of me to give the book such a bad rating for having a sad ending. But I felt so angry with the author, and even more so with the publishers. Let me explain…
Up until Johnnie is killed, the book had been sweet and lovely and heartwarming. If this book didn’t have such a horrible ending, I might have given it four or five stars for its cosy, charming writing and amusing characters. But I felt incredibly betrayed by this book, because it pretends to be something it isn’t. If I was reading a Stephen King novel, I would expect at least one of the characters to come to a grisly end, because that’s kind of what I signed up for. But, the adorable pig on the front cover and the cutesy blurb on the back cover give no indication that Johnnie is going to end up on someone’s dinner plate by the end of this story. This book is packaged so that it will appeal to animal lovers, yet animals lovers are exactly the kind of audience who should avoid this book like the plague. It all feels so misleading: “Read this cute piggy book, it will make you so happy… oh wait, we’re lying to you, it will actually rip your heart out of your body and spit on it, whilst you sit there and cry a salty river of tears!”
I think in some way the author intends for her audience to feel betrayed, because in feeling so we can fully empathise with the little girl protagonist Poll, who loves her friend Johnnie and feels horribly betrayed by her mother for sending him away to be killed and eaten. Perhaps the author is trying to explore the theme of adults lying to/misleading children, and that we cannot always trust those we love. But, the thing is, a few scenes later, the author attempts to justify what has happened to Johnnie by having Poll’s Aunt Sarah take her to the butcher and explain that animals HAVE to be killed so that we can eat them. After this, Poll forgives her mother without much more fuss. So, I’m not really sure what message the author is trying to convey. It doesn’t really seem like she’s on Johnnie’s side though. (RIP)
Don’t get me wrong, I understand why the mum has to sell the pig; I understand that the family are poor and struggling, and that sometimes bad things happen. I know that bad things happening in a book doesn’t make the book itself bad. I know that not all stories have happy endings, and that we shouldn’t shy away from helping children to understand that. But, at the same time… I would never read this story to a child, and I regret reading it myself. Sometimes we NEED a happy book with a comforting ending, to give us hope, to make us feel better. That’s what I thought I was getting, which is the reason I was left so bitterly disappointed by this book.
This is not a bad book, and I can see why lots of people DO love it, because it is well-written, with loveable characters (especially the late Johnnie, RIP). However, this book really wasn’t for me. I’m sorry if this review was an incoherent rant where I repeated myself a bunch of times. I probably could have just typed the word BETRAYAL over and over again and it would have had the same effect. 😛 Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m off to go read something fluffy with a proper happy ending. Recommendations welcome!
P.S. If anyone needs cheering up now, you are welcome to look at this photo of me hanging out with an adorable micro pig (who just would not look at the camera, sorry!) and live vicariously through me 🙂