Freddy Goes to Florida
Originally published as To and Again
By Walter R. Brooks
Alfred A Knopf, 1927
Freddy Goes to Florida was the first Freddy book, the start of a series that would eventually fill 29 volumes. This book does not particularly focus on Freddy the Pig, and was only renamed once it became clear who the real star of the series would be. This story introduced the central group of characters that would star throughout the series, and does feature Freddy as a moderately important character.
One day the farm wakes up, and it is cold. A passing swallow brags to the rooster than he is migrating south for the winter, and will spend the season in the warm sun. The rooster likes this idea, and convinces most of the other animals that live on the farm to join him in migrating to Florida for the winter. So they do. Along the way they escape from thieves, meet the president of the USA, and find buried treasure. And then they go back home.
Which rather glosses over the charm of the Freddy series. Each of these animals is heavily anthropomorphized, and has their own personality. The rooster for example, is a henpecked grouch, who carefully hides his plan to migrate from his wife and her eight sisters, because he knows that they won't let him run off to Florida. He convinces the other animals to go along with him by making a rabble-rousing speech about how the farmer gets to live in the heated farmhouse with warm blankets throughout the winter, while they have to stay in the cold barn. His opponent is the dog, who speaks up to defend the farmer (who does feed and protect them, after all), and worries how the farmer will possibly manage without them. The cat, Jinx, comes in and with a good dose of no-nonsense leadership sorts everything out, drawing straws to see who will go and who will stay behind, negotiating with mice and robins for information (making deals that mostly seem to involve perfectly friendly and open verbal contracts to not eat them in the future), and the titular Freddy mostly asking questions and singing bracing marching tunes.
While the story is silly and childish, it does have a number of redeeming features; the writing and vocabulary are fairly advanced, with a mix of nearly archaic formal language and the animals' down-to-earth country speech; regular smatterings of actual education content, as when the swallow explains the alien concept of 'migration' the the farm animals; Brooks' sense of humor, which remains cromulent even for older readers; and a good sense of pacing.
As a child I did not enjoy these early Freddy books as much as the latter ones, which became in many ways sillier as time when on. Freddy Goes to Florida is a fairly straightforward and simple story, and does not involve the martians and dragons and evil communists that appear in later books. This is an excellent example of a traditional lighthearted tale for children that is both well written and also ridiculously naive in its idea of what children want, although this is alleviated to some extent when Brooks occasionally mocks his own story for being so ridiculous. For those of us who read it as a child it is worth reading it again (and perhaps reading it to your own children) and seeing how well it holds up through the years.
While I did enjoy this book and will probably read it to my children (if they will tolerate it), this is perhaps one of those books that doesn't quite work for most modern young readers. The story and characters seem to be targeted at 6-8 year olds, while the vocabulary and sentence structure are closer to the level of 9-14 year olds... if they are good readers. You should also be warned that if you are reading this to younger children, the animals' crotchety personalities (and frank admission that getting eaten is a highly probable life) outcome may be a bit more bleak than most kids are used to hearing, and you will have to explain what it means when the farmer threatens to fricassee the Rooster.
The second book in the series, originally called More To and Again but later renamed Freddy Goes to the North Pole is pretty much exactly the same deal.