,I was scanning a list of recommended children's books the other day when the title Freddy Goes to Florida caught my eye (how could it not catch my attention?!). The cover shows farms animals staring at alligators. So of course, I had to read it.
First published in the late 1920s and originally titled To and Again, Freddy Goes to Florida was the first of 26 children's books Walter R. Brooks wrote about the animals living on Mr. Bean's farm in upstate New York. Brooks was himself a New Yorker, and had worked in advertising before embarking on a career in writing and publishing. Aside from his Freddy the Pig books, Brooks is best remembered for writing a short story that inspired the Mr. Ed TV series.
Basically, the plot of Freddy Goes to Florida is this: the animals on Mr. Bean's farm do not want to spend another winter in cold, drafty barns. So they decide to go to Florida for the winter. Along the way, they meet people and animals and have adventures. In the Springtime, they return to their farm reinvigorated.
But how does Brooks portray Florida? The journey is as important a part of the story as is the animals' stay in Florida. They don't arrive at their destination until halfway through the book, in Chapter 11:
They sniffed the air delightedly.
"Mmmmmmm!" said Mrs. Wiggins. "Isn't that good? It's better than clover. I wonder what it is."
"I know," said Jack. "I've smelt it at weddings. See all those little green trees down ther? They're orange-trees, and that smell is orange-blossoms."
"Look! Look!" squealed Freddy. "There's a palm-tree!"
"It's Florida!" shouted Jinx.
And all the animals shouted together: "Florida!"
The animals dance and celebrate reaching Florida. Freddy makes up a poem:
In Florida, in Florida,
Where the orange-blossom blows,
Where the alligator sings so sweet.
And the sweet-potato grows;
Oh, that is the place where I would be,
And that is where I am ---
In Florida, in Florida,
As happy as a clam.
And then they head off to the beach, where they stay for a month:
"Every day at four o'clock they went in for a dip in the surf, and then they would lie round on the sand and talk until supper-time. It was a very lazy and pleasant life that they lived in Florida."
Eventually, they decide they should see more of the state, so they head off to Palm Beach, Miami, and the Everglades. In the Big Cypress Swamp, they encounter a hungry group of alligators. Mrs. Wiggins (who is a cow) tries to scare them off:
"Keep away, now!" she said. "We won't stand any nonsense!"
But the alligators only laughed, and one of them said: "Oho! You won't eh? Well what did you come into our country for, then?"
They alligators take the animals to Grandfather Alligator, who remembers the when the Spanish explorers visited Florida. He wants to eat them as well, despite being scolded by Jinx the Cat:
"What do you suppose all the animals up north are going to think of you when they hear about it? Eating up visitors who come to make you a friendly call! A nice opinion they'll get of Florida!"
Eventually, the farm animals escape the alligators, and continue their vacation until spring arrives and it is time to go home to Mr. Bean.
The image of Florida correlates with the popular tourist images of the 1920s, when the book was written. Florida as a wild, somewhat foreign place to rest and play before returning to your actual life.
(This book is most appropriate for third or fourth grade, and would appeal to children who like stories with talking animals. Even though the story was written 80 years ago, there are no obscure references to old machines or technologies that kids today would not understand. The edition I read was published by Overbrook Books in 1998, and is 197 pages with black and white line drawings by Kurt Wiese).