I was ten years old when I first picked up Freddy the Detective by Walter R. Brooks in a branch public library in Sherman Oaks, California. On a hot day my mother and I walked along a eucalyptus-edged street in the San Fernando Valley to the library. The book's title caught my eye: apparently something about a boy who was a detective. When I pulled it from the shelf, it proved to be about a pig who was a detective. As I was a fan anyway of animal stories from Thornton Burgess to Rudyard Kipling, I checked it out and read it.
The central characters of the Freddy the Pig novels are the animals on the Bean Home Farm in rural New York State, mostly official residents, but many wild like the rabbits, or unofficial like the bugs. All of them reason and talk, although we're several novels into the series before the animals begin letting on to humans that they can talk just as well as the latter. And sometimes reason better.
In the cumulative thousands of pages of the series, Brooks has plenty of room to develop and populate his landscape. A new idea from Freddy, pooh-poohed by Jinx (the black cat), may be rescued by the plain sense of Mrs. Wiggins (smartest of the cows), and then perhaps turned into a speech by Charles (the rooster) — all in the course of some neatly intertwined adventures of animals and people. And then Freddy may write a little celebratory verse.
Brooks provides a wide range of down-home personalities, and after reading several of the novels, the animals and humans become treasured acquaintances. Take a drive on a country road, and you may wonder if the Bean Farm isn't that place you glimpse across the fields yonder, and Centerboro drowsing at the next junction.
These are brilliant children's stories, and grownups will discover that they read surprisingly well. Relaxed humor, attention to character, and plots with deft twists and interweaving, provide good entertainment. Brooks also pays attention to value, whether of words, things, actions, or institutions. Not all of this is what you'd expect. Even now rereading them, I sometimes find myself wondering ...
Walter R. Brooks (1886-1958) wrote twenty-five novels in the Freddy the Pig series between 1927 and 1958; and Freddy's poems and songs were collected in a separate volume. The novels are listed below in chronological order, but it's not at all necessary to read them in this order. Given several at hand, you should read the earliest one first, because many bits of background, or occasional characters from duck to lion, recur in later books.
- Freddy Goes to Florida
The farm animals go south for the winter, with adventures on the road.
- Freddy Goes to the North Pole
To see Santa Claus, naturally.
- Freddy the Detective
A mystery. The first novel to be centered around the Bean Home Farm. Freddy emerges as the leading character of the series with intelligence and initiative; accompanied by Jinx the black cat. Simon and his tribe of rats make their first appearance as villains.
- The Story of Freginald
About a bear.
- The Clockwork Twin
A robot boy.
- Freddy the Politician
Brooks now hits his stride: from here on the plots are reasonably complex, the writing is more consistently witty, the characterizations more interesting and often subtle.
- Freddy's Cousin Weedly
Weedly is a very young pig, fearful and shy. Jinx brings him back to the Bean Farm to give him some education. An excellent book to start younger readers into the series.
- Freddy and the Ignormus
The Bean Farm animals must confront a scary monster in the nearby woods. A fine adventure, one of my favorites.
- Freddy and the Perilous Adventure
Ballooning — controlled and uncontrolled flight. A lot of handy little details about ballooning. There's also a subtheme of individualist feminism: Alice and Emma, two sister ducks on the Bean Farm pond, struggling to outgrow their Uncle Wesley. Boomschmidt's Circus plays a part also.
- Freddy and the Bean Home News
Small-press publishing, down on the farm. I easily identify with this theme.
- Freddy and Mr. Camphor
Freddy does house-sitting, and gets to live on a houseboat. The steadfast Mr. Camphor and his excellent butler Bannister, proverbial together.
- Freddy and the Popinjay
A bird in fancier feathers.
- Freddy the Pied Piper
Mr. Boomschmidt's traveling circus, and his star Leo the lion, have major roles here; they are found in a number of the novels. Reviving the circus, rescuing Leo, and ridding Centerboro of a plague of mice, are the substantial activities. This novel feels heavier dramatically than many of the others.
- Freddy the Magician
Amateur Freddy versus a pro magician.
- Freddy Goes Camping
How to foil ghosts — real or otherwise. Mr. Camphor and Bannister again.
- Freddy Plays Football
He's already well-padded.
- Freddy the Cowboy
Yes, a pig on horseback. Gunplay and knife-waving, mostly for bluff. Riding, rodeo, and even bats.
- Freddy Rides Again
Cowboy doings again.
- Freddy the Pilot
Freddy takes flying lessons, as he and his friends try to help Boomschmidt's Circus.
- Freddy and the Space Ship
A homemade spaceship takes some of the animals to a Martian landscape. The succeeding two novels spring directly from this one, although in unexpected directions. In their down-home Bean Farm way, these are better science fiction for kids than much of the so-called "juvenile science fiction". — This is a good point to jump into the latter novels, since those following more or less develop from this one.
- Freddy and the Men from Mars
I always have found this particularly funny.
- Freddy and the Baseball Team from Mars
There are "Martians" — and then there are Martians.
- Freddy and Simon the Dictator
Politics again, this time with the rats and Mr. Camphor.
- Freddy and the Flying Saucer Plans
Spies at the Bean Farm.
- Freddy and the Dragon
More detective work.
Dyed-in-the-hide Freddy fans will enjoy checking out the Friends of Freddy organization. However, newcomers to the series, or those who haven't read all the novels or not lately, should note that a number of the discussions there and elsewhere are surprise-spoilers.
The Freddy the Pig books originally were published by Knopf in trade and library bindings. In 1997 Overlook Press began reprinting the series in nice editions faithful to the Knopf trade originals, including the wonderful Kurt Wiese black-and-white illustrations.
After luckily finding Freddy the Detective, I read and reread the novels. These are beloved books; they are classic animal stories of a distinctively American kind.