Friday, September 17, 2010

Hidden Classic #1: Freddy the Detective

Welcome to "Hidden Classics," a review series that will focus on children's books from the 20th century that you might have forgotten about or missed reading entirely. Each entry in the series will tell you a bit about the book/series and its author, and will recommend both a read-aloud age level and a read-alone age level. If you have any suggestions for "Hidden Classics," feel free to add them to the Comments section below. Happy reading!

Today's entry is the funny, humane, and altogether delightful Freddy the Detective by Walter R. Brooks. It's actually part of a series of Freddy's adventures, written between 1928 and 1958. Brooks was a staff writer for The New Yorker, and contributed stories to The Saturday Evening Post, Atlantic Monthly, and Esquire. His short story "Ed Takes the Pledge" was the basis for the 1950s TV show Mr. Ed. The Freddy series went out of print in the 1960s but was brought back into print in the 1990s due to overwhelming requests from Freddy fans. Freddy even has a newsletter, an annual convention, a book of poetry, and several fan sites. The best is the one run by the Friends of Freddy: (check out the gallery of Freddy's disguises).

Freddy is the "smallest and cleverest" of the animals on Bean Farm, a fictional place set near Syracuse in upstate New York. The animals at Bean Farm are famous for their ability to talk and read, but, unlike most children's books, the author acknowledges that talking animals are unusual, and a lot of the humor comes from this. Freddy is somewhat of a Renaissance pig: in the novels, he becomes a cowboy, an explorer, a politician, a publisher, a poet, a magician, a banker, a campaign manager, a pilot, and (my favorite) a detective.

In Freddy the Detective, our hero goes crazy for Sherlock Holmes and decides to start his own detective business. Beginning with the disappearance of a toy train which the rats steal to ride safely back and forth from their holes to the feedbox, he solves a series of very mysterious cases in which all of the animals become involved. What I love about Freddy is that he always has good intentions but, like all of us, he sometimes stumbles: "But Freddy really had no ideas at all. There was no good using force; he had tried that, and all he had got out of it was a broken tooth that sent his family into fits of laughter whenever he smiled. Anyway, detectives seldom used force; they used guile. He went back to his library and got comfortable and tried to think up some guile to use on the rats. And as usual when he lay perfectly still and concentrated for a short time, he fell asleep." Yes, he is a bit lazy, messy, and sometimes fearful, but he's a loyal friend and a first-rate detective. Go, Freddy!

Freddy the Detective
by Walter R. Brooks
published by Overlook Press, 1998
264 pages (but with illustrations and very large print)
Recommended read-aloud ages: 5+
Recommended read-alone ages: 8+

Praise for Freddy:
"Pure fun from beginning to end." ~ The Horn Book
"There's a richness to the world of Bean Farm and a strong moral code that is timeless." ~ The Los Angeles Times
"They are the American version of the great English classics, such as the Pooh books or The Wind in the Willows." ~ The New York Times Book Review
"Freddy the Pig is back. Hooray!" ~ The Philadelphia Daily News
"Freddy is simply one of the greatest characters in children's literature!" ~ School Library Journal

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