I think I’ve mentioned before that when I was a kid, the bookmobile came out to our little town from the Fort Worth Public Library and parked under a shade tree on Main Street every Saturday morning. It was about the size of a UPS truck and packed full of books. That was my introduction to the world of libraries. From the age of six, I was there nearly every Saturday, checking out an armload of books that I would read during the week and return the next Saturday so I could get more.
Among the books I discovered in those early years was a series of juvenile novels by Walter R. Brooks about some talking animals who lived on a farm in upstate New York. If I remember correctly, the animals had always been able to talk. It’s just that up until a certain point, humans had never bothered to ask them any questions.
The unofficial leader of the animals was Freddy the Pig, who could read and write and had a decidedly adventurous nature for a pig. He fancied himself a detective and sometimes wore a deerstalker cap and carried a magnifying glass for examining clues. He generally solved the mysteries that came up on the farm and the ones involving the circus with which the animals traveled from time to time. He also started a bank for the animals, learned how to fly a plane, wrote poetry, and even became an explorer and went on expeditions to other countries. Quite a pig, in other words.
He was surrounded by a colorful and entertaining supporting cast of animals and humans, including Jinx the Cat, who was often the comedy relief, and the wise old cow Mrs. Wiggins, who acted as the voice of reason for the impulsive and occasionally reckless Freddy. I seem to recall that there was also a human who functioned as a recurring villain, although he was never really too villainous. These are kids’ books, after all, so Freddy never wound up as bacon.
I loved these books and read all of them I could get my hands on. Some of them I probably reread several times. The series was originally published from the Thirties up through the mid-Fifties, and some of the titles have been reprinted in recent years. To give you an idea of the series’ deadpan humor, here’s a brief passage from FREDDY AND THE PERILOUS ADVENTURE (1942):
“Back at home, in what Freddy called his library, which was really just a shed built on to the back of the pigpen, were dozens of disguises, all neatly hung on hangers, which he used in his detective work. In any one of these he felt sure he could walk straight down the road without the slightest danger of being recognized. But without a disguise he was just a stray pig, and if the police were really looking for him, any stray pig was bound to be stopped and questioned.”
I imagine most kids today would find these books much too gentle and whimsical for their tastes, but for me they were an introduction to mystery fiction (I read them even before I discovered the Hardy Boys), and in rereading them today, I find that I appreciate the humor in them even more than I did when I was eight years old. If you read these in your childhood but haven’t revisited them since, they’re well worth a look. And if you’ve never gotten to know Freddy, well, then, maybe you should.