I read so voraciously as a child that I have a tendency to think I’ve read everything written for children. But in reality, most of those delightful hours were spent reading and re-reading the books I loved best. Not only are there many children’s classics I’ve never read, there are whole series I’ve never gotten a whiff of. I’ve never read a single one of Maud Hart Lovelace’s Betsy-Tacy series, for instance, or the Boxcar Children series; I’ve never read The Witch of Blackbird Pond or Where the Red Fern Grows; Junie B. Jones and I have never made acquaintance.
One of these classic series — and I cannot now remember where I got the recommendation to try it (it’s driving me crazy, too, so if you know of a book or blog that recommends it, remind me) — is the Freddy the Pig series by Walter R. Brooks. Despite the fact that there are 26 books in this series, I never encountered any of them in my restless wandering around the children’s section of my library. They are the American answer to Winnie-the-Pooh or The Wind in the Willows, and as such, they have a distinctly American charm to them: less nostalgia, more crispness.
To and Again (later renamed Freddy Goes to Florida, after the series became primarily about Freddy the Pig) was written in 1927. The animals on Mr. Bean’s farm are sick of spending cold northern winters in drafty barns and chicken coops. They decide, on the urging of Charles the rooster, to migrate south to Florida for the winter, leaving behind a few animals who are crucial for the running of the farm, so Mr. Bean will not be left high and dry. The remainder of the book tells, in a gentle, witty way, of their travels (some people help them; others try to steal them; their senator gives them the tour of Washington, D.C. but they never find out what “constituent” means), their stay in Florida, and their triumphant return to a grateful Mr. Bean’s farm.
The plot of this book was nothing particular; “to and again” sums it up very well. (That’s true of other travel books, too, of course, and it’s a genre I like very much, so that’s not a criticism on my part.) The thing I liked best about this book was the writing. Brooks is never condescending to his readers. The vocabulary is pitch-perfect. Small jokes abound, that younger readers won’t twig to but that slightly older readers and adults will enjoy (the two spiders, for instance, are named Mr. and Mrs. Webb.) The personalities of the animals sparkle, from the conceited but good-hearted cat Jinx to Mrs. Wiggins, the cow, who is a “character.” The book is low-drama but high-interest, with enough silliness to satisfy and enough seriousness to be read and reread.
I try to make it a point to read classics in all genres — science fiction, fantasy, memoir, whatever — because time has told us these books have something to offer, even if it turns out not to be something I’m terribly interested in. Children’s literature is no exception. This book was tremendously satisfying and fun to read, as fresh as the year it came out. I’d recommend it to any child or family. Fortunately, the Overlook Press has reprinted all of Freddy’s adventures, so you can read them, too.