Monday, June 22, 2009

Book 42: Freddy The Detective by Walter R. Brooks

When I was little my favorite thing to do was to go to the Kingston Free Library and take out as many books as possible. This was a family ritual which continues to this day. Whenever I am back in Rhode Island I wind up perusing the shelves. They've renovated the building and it still has a magical quality but when you add the power of retrospection it becomes a portal to another universe.

The shelves seemed higher. The ceiling was definitely higher back in those days and the central room was larger. The space has been maximized but it still somehow seems smaller, both through the change in height of this observer and from a simply architectural perspective. It was darker. When you left the front desk to go into the stacks, the height of the shelves combined with the old fashioned windows made for a very complicated play of light. Beams streamed through letters of the alphabet that didn't have too many authors, or through genres that weren't overpopulated. Beams were blocked by popular fiction and common last names.

I had moved past picture books and was now ready for chapters. I don't know whether the librarian suggested it or whether one of my parents had read this book as a child but somehow I read a book called 'Freddy The Detective'.

First off you have to understand that Freddy is a pig. He lives on a farm where the animals have begun to take responsibility for some aspects of their lives. Imagine 'Animal Farm' as a really great show produced for PBS by Jim Henson and you'll get the idea.

Freddy is a bit bored. He has had some adventures (obviously this wasn't the first book in the series which immediately clued me in that there were other books, very exciting!) but things have calmed down to the point where he is looking for something to do.

Et voila, a mystery drops into his lap. The man who owns the farm notices that his grain supply is dwindling rapidly. Theft!!! Freddy decides that he is going to solve this case come hell or high water. He begins to investigate. Now Freddy is smart for a pig but that ain't saying much, if you catch my drift. The tactics that he uses are hilarious and naive, sort of what a 7 year old might do.

The case almost rips the farm apart! Old wounds are re-opened, new conflict arises, and chaos almost reigns. Of course, this being for kids, Freddy somehow solves this case and by the end of the book is already planning on opening a bank or building a space ship.

Now, obviously, this book is not one of the 50 great achievements in modern literature, or any era for that matter.

But when the magic stacks of the place where you discovered your own imagination come into play, all objectivity is supposed to go out the window, isn't it? I mean, that's what this story telling thing is all about. This series of books held my brain in such sway that I remember it more vividly than I do winning the State Championship in soccer when I was 12.

Cut to 28 years later or so. My father and mother have come down to NYC to meet up with a dear friend Barry Scott and his wife Joanne at a book fair held in the Armory on 68th street.

Cashel is just about a year old and just about the cutest thing ever created. I popped him in the little sling we used to carry him around in and we headed on the subway with my folks up to the fair. And that was where I saw a copy of 'Freddy The Detective', a first edition, mint condition, perfect. I hadn't thought of the books in years and the whole thing came flooding back to me in a rush.

And there with me was my Dad who is the whole reason I was there (both at the fair and on the planet) and I held my own son in my arms and the joy of the passing of time and the connections of life was almost unbearable. And all that came from a book about a talking pig who is always looking for the next challenge.