This time of year I try to reread something from my shelves with a Christmas or at least wintry theme. This one has Santa Claus as a major character, and certainly qualifies. If you’re not familiar with the “Freddy the Pig” series by Brooks, you’ve missed out on fine, funny, entertaining reading. I loved them as a child. As an adult, I appreciate the humor and insights into human and animal nature all the more. This is the second in the series, in the first one Freddy and his animal friends went from their home in rural New York State to Florida. Brooks was not quite settled in his handling of the characters yet, so for instance, while Freddy and Jinx the Cat are nearly always front and center in later books, in this one they are off-stage for about a third of the time. Other animals get to take the spotlight instead. The illustrations by Kurt Wiese for the entire series are wonderful and an integral part of the reading experience.
The animals of the Bean Farm enjoyed their Florida adventure, and would like to travel more, but with all the work to be done on the farm they can’t find the time. Freddy comes up with a plan to give local tours to animals into the nearby town of Centerboro and around the area, often on cow or horseback for the small ones, or in small herds for the large ones. To pay for this popular activity, the animals pledge work time on the farm. Before long, Mr. Bean’s work is done nearly as soon as he mentions he plans to start it, and there’s plenty of time for the home animals to launch a new expedition to the North Pole. They thought it would be a fun adventure and hope to visit Santa Claus.
The first expedition heads out and does fine until they become stranded on an iceberg in the polar sea, and are rescued by a whaling ship. The whalers try to make pets of them, and one of the animals, a crow, is sent back to the Bean farm to get help. He organizes a second expedition, but this one is much less well prepared and runs into all kinds of trouble from bears, wolves, and angry humans. Eventually they do reach the Pole to find Freddy’s group as well as the whalers/pirates living the high life there, and interfering with Santa’s business. The animals have to figure out a way to get rid of the pirates without hurting anyone, which Santa will not allow, and help get Christmas gift deliveries back on track.
Like all the Freddy books, which had mostly gone out of print for a few decades, this was reissued by Overlook Press not too long ago, and is still available from them. I recommend it and the entire series.