Growing up in Arlington, Massachusetts during the 1950s, I was fortunate to have a large children’s library in the center of town. On Saturdays, my parents drove my sister and me to the library for story hour. I cannot remember if I was introduced to Freddy in a story on one of those Saturdays or if I found his books on the shelf and decided to take one home with me. I was seven years old.
The Freddy the Pig books became my favorite series during my grammar school years. I read some Hardy Boys books, some Nancy Drew, and a few Bobbsey Twins, but they did not capture my imagination the way Freddy and his friends did.
The first book I read was Freddy the Detective. Freddy is a fan of Sherlock Holmes (of whom I knew nothing at that age) and when a toy train goes missing, he takes on the job of solving the crime with Jinx the Cat. The books are filled with dozens of anthropomorphic barnyard citizens – Mrs. Wiggins the cow, Charles the rooster, Simon the rat, and many others – who help (or hinder) Freddy’s activities. Each chapter begins with a pen-and-ink drawing. Opening a new book, I’d look at each drawing until I couldn’t wait any longer to start reading. I referred to the pictures over and over. As I read through the series of books, I found myself believing that the animals were more real than my friends – or, at least, more exciting.
The farm where they live is located in rural New York where the author, Walter R. Brooks, was born in 1886. While reading the books, I dreamed of one day going to the farm if only I could persuade my parents to drive me. I visualized every scene in the books and was positive that I could find them and that they would be exactly as I imagined them.
One day, when our next door neighbor saw what I was reading, she told me something I’ve never forgotten. “My uncle is a friend of the author. He lives in the same town in New York as Mr. Brooks.” The author was a real person! And if he was real, so too must be the animals. Now that I knew where they lived, my dream of meeting them became stronger.
During the summer of my eighth year, disaster struck! My mother, exasperated with my constant requests to go to New York (wherever that was!), suddenly told me, “The farm doesn’t exist! The animals are made up. They’re not real.” I refused to believe her and ran outside. I would never be able to visit? I would never meet my friends?
I had grown up. When my mother gave me the latest book in the series (no. 23) for my birthday, I didn’t show the excitement she expected and finally confessed that I was no longer interested in them.
Two years later, I was living in a town north of Toronto. My father, a mechanical engineer, had been assigned to work on the Saint Lawrence Seaway. The school year had already begun and I had to make all new friends. One afternoon, during recess, our 7th grade class was playing baseball. It wasn’t long before everyone knew I was a terrible player. I had an accent and I wasn’t good at sports. I took my place in the outfield, along with another boy who was no better at sports than me. No balls came our way, we were bored, and began talking. At some point, we began discussing books. I told him my favorite books were about Freddy the Pig. To my surprise, he said, “You like those books? I’ve read everyone one of them.” His favorite book was Freddy the Magician. From that moment, we were close friends. If Freddy had been in the outfield watching us, he would have approved.
– Dave Riese, author of Echo from Mount Royal
Be sure to check out Stephanie’s interview with Dave Riese over at Layered Pages!