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Talking Animals and Others: The Life and Work of Walter R. Brooks
This is Michael Cart's long-awaited biography of Walter R. Brooks, which also includes Cart's thoughts on each and every Freddy book as an extended appendix. "Author and librarian Michael Cart gracefully combines archival research, firsthand accounts from Brooks's personal files, and interviews with his second wife to present the first complete biography of the man behind the pig. Much of the series sprang from Brooks's idyllic childhood in turn-of-the-century upstate New York among a colorful cast of family and friends. Brooks spent his adult life writing iconoclastic columns and book reviews as well as original, often fantastical stories for numerous popular publications."
The Wit and Wisdom of Freddy and His Friends
"This book was clearly a labor of love, both from Overlook Press and from the many Friends of Freddy who contributed to it. As Michael Cart points out in his introduction, it's something of a dream come true: the first new Freddy book in over forty years." (Click here for the complete review by Kevin Parker).
The Collected Poems of Freddy the Pig
Published just after Freddy and the Space Ship, this book contains poems by Freddy, the other animals, and even Mr. Bean (though fortunately none by Mrs. Peppercorn) from all of the previous books as well as a few originals. If you've ever been desperate to find all the words to the Boomschmidt Circus Marching Song or the Chant of the Horrible Ten, this is the book for you. And it's well worth browsing through just to bring forth fond memories of the various stories the poems are extracted from. The single most striking feature of the book, however, might be the many highly entertaining Wiese illustrations (frequently several per page), all done specifically for this book and found nowhere else.
Freddy Goes to Florida (Hardcover) (Paperback)
The first book in the series and the one which Walter R. Brooks himself felt was the best of the bunch. First published in 1927, the book is notable not only as the first title in the series but as a book which helped usher in modern American children's literature, especially in its wonderful use of realistic language and humor. The plot is simply re-told: tired of long, hard winters, the animals on the Bean Farm in upstate New York decide to take a vacation trip to Florida. The book recounts their travels and the adventures they encounter along the way. Freddy is not the hero of this first book in the series. Instead, he is identified simply as "the youngest and the cleverest of the pigs (on the farm)." The animals encounter burglars, outwit and group of hungry alligators, and discover buried treasure which they take back to the farm and present to Mr. Bean who vows, in turn, to make their lives easier. As we will come to expect in later books, he is as good as his word.
Freddy Goes to the North Pole (Hardcover) (Paperback)
This time the animals go north instead of south -- all the way to the North Pole, in fact, where they meet Santa Claus and, along the way, rescue two children, Ella and Everett, from their abusive aunt and uncle. Freddy is a more prominent character in this book but is still not center stage. Buy me a drink at the next Freddyfest and I'll tell you about the origins of the characters of the sailors who are secondary characters in this title.
Freddy the Detective (Hardcover) (Paperback)
Freddy, inspired by a book he had found in the barn (THE ADVENTURES OF SHERLOCK HOLMES), decides to become a detective. Mrs. Wiggins, the cow, becomes his partner (Freddy supplies the imagination, she provides the common sense!). Freddy will play many roles in the books which follow but that of detective is probably the one he will most often be required to fill. This book, incidentally, marks the first appearance of Simon the rat and his family as Freddy's chief antagonist(s).
The Story of Freginald
Freginald is a young bear who joins Mr. Boomschmidt's circus. Freddy doesn't make an appearance until the final third of this book when he helps Freginald solve a mystery and save the circus. Freginald was too much like Freddy to have a lasting place in the series and, in fact, this is his only major appearance. Another of the circus animals, Leo, becomes Freddy's best friend (next to Jinx, the cat), however, and appears in may of the subsequent books. This title is significant not only because it introduces the circus -- which figures in many of the later books -- but also because it is the first time in the series that animals talk to human beings.
The Clockwork Twin
The animals rescue a boy named Adoniram Smith from a flood and from his wicked aunt and uncle, in that order. Adoniram comes to live on the farm. When the animals realize that he is lonely, they ask Mr. Bean's inventor uncle, Benjamin Bean, to build another boy out of wood. The result is amazingly lifelike and, powered by clockwork (hence the title of the book), is able to do many of the things a normal boy would do. A sub-plot involves the animal's efforts to find Adoniram's real-life brother, Byram. Needless to say, this is a job for Freddy the detective. The fate of Ad., By., Ella, and Everett -- all of whom simply disappear from the series - has provided much opportunity for heated debate among the Friends of Freddy. (My theory -- that the Beans sell all of the kids into white slavery -- is hotly disputed.)
Freddy the Politician
Anxious to prove to the Beans that they are sufficiently responsible to run the farm while the Beans go to Europe on vacation, the animals found a bank and start a government, the First Animal Republic. The rats, in league with a family of woodpeckers who have blown in from Washington (literally, since a storm blew them off-course and onto the Bean Farm), attempt to turn the republic into a dictatorship but are foiled by Freddy. This book is often compared with George Orwell's ANIMAL FARM, which it predates by some ten years. It is probably the quintessential Freddy book, in its humor, themes, and characterizations.
Freddy's Cousin Weedly
Jinx the cat "adopts" Freddy's young cousin Weedly and teaches him courage and self-reliance. Meanwhile Mr. Bean's aunt and uncle show up at the farm and, finding the Beans gone to Europe and not understanding that the animals are capable of running the farm in the Bean's absence decide to stay. Unfortunately Aunt Effie decides that this is the perfect opportunity to claim as her own the silver teapot which her aunt had left to Mr. Bean. The animals, led by Freddy, must find a way to foil this effort. The action in this one gets bogged down by Brooks's interpolation of the text of a too-long play by Freddy.
Freddy and the Ignormus (Hardcover) (Paperback)
Something -- nobody is quite sure what -- called the Ignormus terrorizes the farm and extorts food from the animals by threatening to eat them. The Ignormous lives in the Big Woods north of the farm where the animals have, historically, been reluctant to go and quickly assumes larger-than-life proportions. This title is one of the most popular in the series with many of the Friends of Freddy, perhaps because of the suggestion of the supernatural which overlays the book. (It turns out, in the end, that the rats are behind the plot and that the Ignormous is nothing but a sheet which the rats drop out of trees at appropriate moments. It takes some serious detective work by Freddy to reveal this, however!). This book marks the first appearance of Jinx's gabby and overbearing sister, Minx.
Freddy and the Perilous Adventure
For reasons too complicated to summarize here, Freddy (along with the ducks, Alice and Emma), has to go aloft in a balloon which -- for even more complicated reasons -- gets loose from its moorings, leaving the impression that Freddy has stolen it. After several narrow escapes Freddy goes into hiding with the circus where his friends -- especially Leo -- help him clear his good name. A subplot involves the return to the farm of the ducks' pompous and boastful Uncle Wesley.
Freddy and the Bean Home News (Hardcover) (Paperback)
When Mr. Dimsey, Editor of the Centerboro GUARDIAN, loses the newspaper to the thoroughly wicked -- and exceedingly wealthy -- Mrs. Underdunk, Freddy helps by starting a rival newspaper, THE BEAN HOME NEWS, the first animal newspaper. Mrs. Underdunk and her brother, Herbert Garble, will re-appear in later titles as enemies of Freddy (it's their life's ambition to capture Freddy and send him, in a crate, to their uncle Orville Garble's ranch in Montana). A sub-plot involves the animals' efforts in a scrap iron drive (the book was published during World War II), including their stratagems for getting an iron deer from Mrs. Underdunk's front lawn. Brooks has fun satirizing politicians in the person of the pompous and long-winded Sen. Blunder.
Freddy and Mr. Camphor
Freddy is hired to serve as summer caretaker for the estate of the wealthy C. Jimson Camphor. Things get complicated when, first, the rats show up and then -- horrors! -- the evil (and dirty) Zebedee Winch and his son Horace put in an appearance (these are the previously unnamed man with the black mustache and the dirty faced boy from TO AND AGAIN). Freddy adds a new talent to his portfolio in this title: he becomes a painter as well as a detective, poet, banker and newspaper editor.
Freddy and the Popinjay
This is a book about transformation -- how Freddy transforms the nearsighted robin J.J. Pomeroy into a popinjay (bad mistake, Freddy!) and young Jimmy Witherspoon from a pest into an ally. A subplot involves the appearance of a family of wildcats on the farm and Mr. Bean's falling into the pit which the animals have dug to trap the cats. I love the scene where Mr. Pontoon mistakes Freddy for an ambassador (and who wouldn't?!).
Freddy the Pied Piper
My favorite of all the Freddy books, this story shows Freddy at his ingenious best helping the circus animals to rescue the circus which has fallen on hard economic times. Freddy first hatches a scheme to rid houses in the nearby village of Centerboro of an infestation of mice in order to raise the money the circus needs. Of course, he alienates the farm mice (Eek, Quik, Eeny, and Cousin Augustus) in the process AND has to call on the owl, Old Whibley to adjudicate the dispute. Then he must rescue Leo, who has been captured by the evil pet shop owner Gwetholinda Guffin, and then the animals must make a dangerous journey to Virginia where the circus is spending the winter. Of course, the money is stolen along the way and Freddy must recover it. Then, finally, he must trick Mr. Boomschmidt, the circus owner, into accepting the money (Mr. B. is too proud to accept charity). Lovely, hilarious complications.
Freddy the Magician
Freddy becomes an amateur magician and arouses the ire of Senor Zingo, the circus's professional prestidigitator. This leads to a hilarious grudge match of magic and prestidigitation (guess who wins?). Minx makes an encore appearance in this one and is every bit as annoying as before. A sub-plot involves Zingo's attempts to defraud the Centerboro Hotel and a cameo appearance by its manager, Ollie ("I've always had a weakness for this here sesquipedalianism") Groper.
Freddy Goes Camping
Mr. Camphor makes another appearance, this time enlisting Freddy's help in dealing with his two aunts and in saving the old hotel at Lakeside from an infestation of ghosts (the aunts, one gloomy; the other, cantankerous) are easier to deal with than the ghosts but Freddy's skills as a detective (and his disguise as old Dr. Hopper) are once again sufficient to carry the day. The rats reliably provide much of the villainy in collaboration, this time, with the evil and mysterious Mr. EHA.
Freddy Plays Football (Hardcover) (Paperback)
A double-barreled novel: both mystery and sports story. The mystery involves the appearance on the Bean Farm of Mrs. Bean's long-lost brother Aaron Doty (or is he?), claiming his share of the family inheritance. The sports story involves Freddy's becoming a member of the Centerboro High School football team, tossing around the ol' pigskin (!) and once again surviving Herb Garble's attempts to ship him off to Montana.
Freddy the Cowboy
Freddy saves a horse named Cyclone from its abusive owner, Cal Flint, who has opened a guest ranch near the Bean Farm. Cy teaches Freddy to ride. Freddy bests Flint in a rodeo competition and must then find ways to save his, as it were, bacon, when Flint vows revenge. This title is notable for its introduction of the Horrible 10, a band of rabbits who rally to Freddy's defense. In later books their number swells to twice that and they become the Horrible 20 . ("We are the Horrible Twenty/ Of ferocity, boy! we've got plenty!")
Freddy Rides Again
More cowboy stuff. This time Freddy runs afoul of the wealthy Margerine Family which has bought an estate near the Bean Farm. Freddy disguises himself as a desperado named Snake Peters and teaches the Margerine's son, Billy, a lesson or three in humility.
Freddy the Pilot (Hardcover) (Paperback)
Mr. Bean buys Freddy an airplane and the pig takes to the skies to help save the circus from the machinations of the evil comic book publisher Watson P. Condiment, my favorite villain in the whole series. Mr. Condiment not only has designs on the circus but on its star equestrienne, Mlle. Rose. The book ends happily (what else?) when Mr. Boomschmidt, the circus's owner, realizes that he is in love with Rosie and the two marry. The only love story in the Freddy series.
Freddy and the Space Ship (Hardcover) (Paperback)
Uncle Ben builds a space ship and the animals blast off to Mars. An accident in space turns the ship around without its passengers' knowledge and they land on earth, thinking they have landed on Mars. The ensuing complications are hilarious and involve Mrs. Bean's hapless cousins, the Bismuths (Ed Bismuth, the paterfamilias, is one of Mr. Brooks's most hilarious creations). This book is notable, too, for bringing one of the earlier books' minor characters, the aged Mrs. Peppercorn, center stage. If you think Freddy's poetry is bad, wait until you hear Mrs. Peppercorn's!!! ("Some stars are large and some are small/ And some are quite invisiball.")
Freddy and the Men From Mars
Hard on the heels of Freddy's misadventures in space comes the news that the Martians have landed and have joined the circus. Freddy's suspicions are aroused when he learns that the Martians' "manager" is none other than Herb Garble. Sure enough, the "Martians" turn out to be the rats in disguise. But then real Martians land, and the fun begins. This one is dedicated to Dorothy Brooks. She and Walter had been married the year before.
Freddy and the Baseball Team from Mars
Real Martians like earth and decide to stay, becoming star attraction with the circus. But things become complicated when one of their number is kidnapped. Freddy dons a disguise as the aged Mr. Arquebus to find the missing Martian. Meanwhile Mr. Boomschmidt, always anxious to give his customers their money's worth, decides that the Martians should form a baseball team. Freddy, still in disguise, is pressed into service as their coach. The plot thickens when the evil Mr. EHA (the villain of Freddy Goes Camping) puts in an appearance.
Freddy and Simon the Dictator
The animals are revolting! Simon the rat is determined to turn the farm into a dictatorship. Mr. Camphor has been persuaded (much against his better judgment) to run for governor of New York State. Herb Garble shows up, Jinx defects to the enemy (or does he?), and Freddy goes to work. Brooks has a lot of fun in this one satirizing politics and -- especially -- politicians. (Mr. Camphor IS elected governor, and Freddy becomes the political boss of Otesaraga County).
Freddy and the Flying Saucer Plans
More politics: a gang of international spies is trying to steal the plans for Uncle Ben's flying saucer. Freddy gets involved and, through a comedy of errors, is branded a traitor. He goes into disguise (as a gypsy fortuneteller), outsmarts the spies and clears his good name.
Freddy and the Dragon
A crime wave hits Centerboro. Freddy sets out to solve the case and runs into a headless horseman. Shades of Washington Irving! With a little help from his friends and with a lot of Uncle Ben's ingenuity Freddy solves the crime. This novel, the last in the series, also introduces Mrs. Wiggins' father, a bull named Percy, who needs a lot of reforming, and features Samuel Jackson, a mole who sounds a little too much like Foghorn Leghorn. Brooks died two months before its publication.
(Book descriptions by Michael Cart.)