Category Archives: Reviews

Rereading: FREDDY THE POLITICIAN by Walter R. Brooks

The sixth book in the Freddy the Pig series by Walter R. Brooks was originally titled “Wiggins for President,” before being retitled as above to fit in with the rest of the series. Mr. and Mrs. Bean have plans to go to Europe for a few months, and are wondering if their talking animals will be able to run the farm in their absence. To help convince them, Freddy decides the animals need to show how responsible they are by starting their own bank. The First Animal Bank is set up in an otherwise unused farm outbuilding after underground vaults are dug to hold valuables. Freddy is the treasurer, but wants another animal to be president, and the job falls to a new arrival on the farm, a woodpecker from Washington D.C. named John Quincy Adams, after the early U.S. president. His impressive name seems just right for the job. Another project the animals take on is the formation of their own government, the First Animal Republic. Candidates are nominated and begin their campaigns, with Freddy and his friends backing the cow, Mrs. Wiggins, who has a winning personality, an infectious laugh, and lots of common sense. Soon, however, the true plans of the woodpecker and his family surface when he also begins campaigning for president after a slick takeover of the bank. How can Freddy and the Bean Farm animals combat this outside takeover of their ideas and enterprises?

As much fun as all the Freddy books, and the political shenanigans are especially amusing in light of current developments in our own world. Recommended.

Freddy the Politician by Walter R Brooks

Rereading: DANGEROUS ISLAND by Helen Mather-Smith Mindlin

Frank and Dorothy Warren have come with their mother to spend the summer in a rented house on Brigantine Island, just north of Atlantic City on the New Jersey coast. They soon meet Mr. Charleston, a friendly young man living in a self-built shack on the bay shore, where he makes a living fishing from his boat. Soon they’ve also met a local boy, Pug, who teaches them how to fish and gather clams, and Mr. Charleston helps them build a sturdy raft from driftwood that he ties to his dock so they can play and fish on it. One day, tired of being in the same place, Mr. Charleston tows the raft and the children to a new mooring further out in the bay before he goes out fishing. Unfortunately the stakes he moored them to come loose, and before they know it, the three children are swept by the tide out into the ocean. A thick fog comes up, keeping anyone from seeing their plight, and eventually they land on a small, rocky island miles from the coast. While Mr. Charleston and the parents are frantically searching for them, the three castaways get by on their deserted island, finding enough to eat, and sleeping in a cave, but then something ominous is noticed. The island is getting smaller! It’s gradually sinking into the ocean. Can the children be found in time? And what unusual secret does the cave hold for them?

This is an exciting read if you’re willing to overlook a few things. For instance, there are no rocky islands off the New Jersey coast, sinking or otherwise. Also, the author doesn’t understand that tides affect all land, including small islands. As a child, I didn’t notice any of that and enjoyed the adventure. Mildly recommended.

Dangerous Island by Helen Mather-Smith Mindlin

Rereading: WILD GEESE FLYING by Cornelia Meigs

Dick Milton and his family have lived in many places, following their father to jobs around the world, but now their mother and her four children have settled in the Vermont small town home willed to her by her deceased father, while the children’s own father continues to work far away. They love the large house and the woods around it, but for some reason they can’t understand, the people of the town are unfriendly and don’t seem to want them there. It’s more than New England disdain of newcomers, there’s a mystery here that no one will explain to them. Dick makes one new friend in the woods, Jerry Stewart, but he can’t or won’t explain either. As the Miltons become more known, and have opportunities to help their neighbors, some of them thaw and become more friendly, and eventually the truth comes out. Jerry Stewart had been a good friend of their grandfather, and entrusted him with a large sum of money to be invested before Jerry went away to military service. Now that he’s back, there’s no trace of that money anywhere, and the town feels the house should be his to make up for it. Can Dick and his family discover the truth of the missing funds, or must they turn their new home over to Jerry Stewart?

This is my favorite of the Meigs books I’ve read, and I think the only one that has a contemporary 1950s setting rather than a historical one. The characters and plot are engaging, and the writing is excellent. I also like the illustrations by Geer. Recommended.

Wild Geese Flying by Cornelia Meigs

And Then I Read: MERLIN’S SISTER by J. A. Thornbury

I’ve read quite a few novels dealing with King Arthur and the legends and stories surrounding his rule and court, a subject also known as the Matter of Britain. There is no historical record of Arthur so far discovered, he may have been a real person, or not. Most versions of his story were written hundreds of years after the fact, the most important being the Historia Regum Britanniae by Geoffrey of Monmouth (1136), and Le Morte d’Arthur by Thomas Malory (1485). Both those works are fictional, and set the stories in medieval times. This book takes place in a much earlier era, around 500 AD, not long after the Roman Empire withdrew from the country in 410 AD, a time when a possible post-Roman Briton Arthur might have lived and ruled, and a time which ties in to some archaeological research. The book also includes some of the legends and stories that fit in with this approach, but for instance, there are no knights in shining armor, and no round table. The map of Britain included uses all Roman names for places, with a list of current names beside it, but the Latin names are used throughout.

In this book, Arthur is raised in Cumbria in northwest England, the adopted son of Ector and Drusilla, with their own son Cei. When Arthur is a boy, Merlin arrives to tutor him. This is familiar from other versions, but there are a few twists. We eventually learn that Merlin is himself the king of a section of Britain, and his sister Ganieda is queen in another section. The country at this time has no overall ruler, but is divided into small kingdoms, and part of eastern Britain is held by the Saxons, invaders from Germany who war upon the Britons, trying to expand their holdings. The country needs a unified king, and at a meeting to discuss that, the familiar gambit of a sword in a stone that can only be pulled out by the true king, is engineered by Merlin, and of course Arthur is the only one who can remove it.

From that point forward, this book is different from others I’ve read, in that Arthur must first do battle with rivals for the throne, and when he accomplishes that, he and his united country must take on the Saxon invaders. The central portion of the book covers these battles and struggles, and is well written. During this time, Arthur also meets a beautiful young maiden, Gwenhwyfar (Guinevere) at the court of his mother at Tintagel in western Cornwall.

Some of the book also focuses on Merlin’s life and activities both with and without Arthur, bringing more of the old legends into play, and there is treachery and danger that even his ability to sometimes see the future can’t always protect him from. I’m a bit puzzled about why the book is named after his sister Ganieda, as she plays a minor role until near the end.

I have a favorite author about King Arthur, T. H. White, whose books The Sword in the Stone and The Once and Future King are the ones I love best on this topic. Where this book covers the same ground, it doesn’t do it as well. In areas not covered by White, this one appealed to me more. I’m not sure if I will read the rest of this trilogy (only the second book is out so far), but I may, and I can recommend this one.

Merlin’s Sister by J A Thornbury

Rereading: HIGH ROAD HOME by William Corbin

Nico La Flamme grew up on the streets of Paris during World War Two, on his own, living by his wits and stealing to stay alive along with many others like him. Now the boy has come to America, sponsored by a charity group, who has found foster parents for him in California. But Nico has other ideas, he wants to search for his real father, who may be a teacher in this huge country, but he has only a flimsy newspaper clipping and a journalist’s name to go on. Nico skips out of the hands of his minder in Chicago and begins his search. Soon he meets an American boy in a coffee shop who seems like a kindred spirit, Dud Hamilton, working dull jobs while he tries to get hired as a newspaper reporter. The two join forces for a while, helping each other, but Nico later decides he must continue on his own. Together and separately the boys cross the continent on freight trains and hitchhiking, facing danger and evading police, until at last they’re caught and Nico must face his arranged family. How can he explain his real hopes?

This is Corbin’s first book, and one of his best. The characters spring to life, America in the early 1950s is vivid and real, and the plot is both clever and heart-wrenching at times. Recommended if you can find it.

High Road Home by William Corbin