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This is a story I remember from my childhood, and I have to admit that I still love this series. I was thrilled to find it on audiobook, so my son could listen to them as he fell asleep. This is an old series; I believe this was the first book, written circa 1928 about animals on a farm that learn to talk. They decide they don't like the cold of upstate New York, so they will take a trip to Florida. I love the personalities of the animals, and how they talk to eachother. I also liked the chance to explain to my son about life "back then", when walking to Florida meant walking on roads, not getting on the interstate! Not everyone owns a car, and an alarm clock works by winding it.
There is enough action in this book to keep the older children satisfied, but the narration is calm enough for younger children to listen to.
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Freddy Goes to Florida (1927/1949) by Walter R. Brooks begins like a whimsical Animal Farm. Orwell probably didn't get inspired to write his grim Stalinist parable by reading about Freddy and company, but in Brooks' book Mr. Bean's animals are sick and tired of working and living uncomfortably during winter on his farm. The rooster Charles hates having to wake up before sunrise to crow (Mr. Bean threatening to fricassee the rooster for dinner if he doesn't do his job), while the horse Hank has rheumatism. And so when a barn swallow explains migration, Charles and Hank call a meeting to discuss migrating to Florida for the winter. The animals argue about who will go and who will stay to help Mr. Bean run the farm--until the cat Jinks has everyone draw lots. Jinks also gets a robin to draw a map of the way south, and when Mr. Bean is away in town, the cat leads the migrating animals out on their journey, "with his tail held straight up in the air like a drum-major's stick." In addition to the mischievous Jinx (useful in a pinch), the traveling companions are comprised of phlegmatic Hank, the young dog Robert, the cow Mrs. Wiggins ("a character"), the pig Freddy (a songster with "an inquiring mind"), a few mice like Cousin Augustus (good at chewing through things), the white duck sisters Emma and Alice (good at teaching swimming), and the barn spider couple Mr. and Mrs. Webb (tiny-voiced and philosophical). Will Charles' wife Henrietta (who likes to henpeck him) let him go?
The book depicts the adventures of the animals as they walk to, in, and from Florida, featuring roads, rivers, and towns, a treasure, a swamp, a doll baby carriage, the Grandfather of All the Alligators, some timid burglars, and a dangerous and desperate man with a black moustache and a dirty-faced son--and more. As they journey south, the animals begin to realize that maybe Mr. Bean isn't such a bad master after all, and they resolve to bring him a present when they return home.
The light-hearted book has many funny moments, like Henrietta's explanation for why hens don't crow, Mr. Webb's conversations with an ant and a fly, the animals' welcome in the nation's capitol, Mrs. Wiggins' heroic defense of a bridge armed only with a few mice, the animals' enjoyment of jewelry and disguising of themselves on the way home, etc. Every animal plays a key role at least once during their adventures. There are also some bizarre touches like when we learn that Mrs. Wiggins gave Jinx and Robert some milk, without being told just how she managed this.
Here are some examples of Brooks' dry humor and clear style:
-"Mr. Webb, however, was firm in his decision, as spiders are apt to be."
-"Mrs. Wiggins had a sense of humor. That means that she always laughed at the wrong time."
-"Now, if you are a rather timid burglar, and you light a match in a dark room and see a cat that is within an inch of your nose, you'll probably do just as Ed did. He dropped his match and let out an awful yell."
This is the first of 26 Freddy books, and whereas in later novels Mr. Bean's animals talk with each other AND with people, here they are limited to speaking with other animals, because although they understand human speech perfectly, people only hear them quack and squeak and bark etc. Perhaps this is because animals "hear better than people." Another difference is that here Freddy is but one supporting character among many, whereas later in the series he becomes the mover and shaker and hero of the animals' adventures (which must be why the original 1927 title of this book, To and Again, was changed in 1949 to Freddy Goes to Florida).
Audiobook reader John McDonough has the perfect gravelly voice and sensitive manner for the book, taking humorous things seriously and serious things humorously. I got a kick out of his horse, mouse, and spider voices, and he sings Freddy's songs with tune and gusto. The only drawback of the audiobook is that it lacks the illustrations by Kurt Wiese, so charming, realistic, and humorous.
When I binged on the Freddy the Pig books in elementary school in the 60s, I missed much of the humor and read the stories as exciting and interesting adventures, while now I feel less suspense and laugh more. Their quirky charm and affection for animals make them a pleasure to read. You should enjoy Freddy Goes to Florida if you like talking animal stories (like Charlotte's Web minus the pathos), journey and return adventure stories (like The Hobbit minus the fantasy world), idyllic rural American stories (when phaetons could be found in garbage dumps, the best way to get to Florida was by surface streets, and small farm communities spread out everywhere), and lightly satiric stories targeting foolish and or bad humans. It's the kind of book you read smilingly.