Poll and Theo's mother is at bottom a practical sort, but one who loves a bit of excitement and a good story -- the children's favorite is the one about Granny Greengrass getting her finger cut off at the butcher's. And when the Greengrass family falls on hard times -- Dad takes the blame for a robbery at work and leaves his job as a carriage painter to seek his fortune in America -- both Poll and Theo accept the change in the spirit of romantic adventure. Theo, the runt of the family and a perpetual outsider, uses his powers of invention to play into the blackmailing schemes of ""gooseberryeyed"" Noah Bugg, leading the older boy on with a tale about his father's having stolen and hidden a large cache of gold. Poll, more outgoing, shares her mother's fancy for the peppermint pig (another runt) who becomes an indoor family pet, only to be traumatized when the pig, Johnny, is sent to the butcher, a fate her mother hasn't had the heart to warn her about. The Greengrass family is set apart by more than its pet pig -- there's Grandfather who chose life as a hobo and appears from time to time demanding dinner and clothing. Yet these differences are less important than Poll's final ability to turn the tragedy of Johnny into another precious smoked glass memory and face her anxiety over the family's high hopes for the future -- an attitude she damns as ""all this looking forward."" But this is essentially a looking backward story -- less structured than Carrie's War but crammed with sharp, truthful moments and the collective family legends that are almost, but not quite, the same thing.