The Story of Ferdinand
For $6.99 plus tax ($5.99 in the U.S.) you could own one of the WORLD’S GREATEST BOOKS. My first encounter with The Story of Ferdinand was actually in elementary school when I saw the animated short by Disney. “Ferdinand the Bull” won an Academy Award for Best Short Subject in 1938. I was delightfully surprised when I came across it years later in its original book form (FYI, the book is always better). The Story of Ferdinand is on my list of top 5 favorite books of all time. Keep reading…
Published 74 years ago, The Story of Ferdinand is a classic that has withstood the test of many generations, passing along a timeless message: just be yourself. Instead of fighting, snorting and butting heads with other bulls, Ferdinand prefers smelling flowers at his favorite spot under a cork tree. As years go by, Ferdinand grows big and strong, but his quiet and mellow demeanor remains the same. Just because you are a bull doesn’t mean you have to act like one.
One day, five men come to the village in search of the largest and most ferocious bull to take part in the annual bullfight in Madrid. They stumble across a raging Ferdinand, snorting and butting, madly running about. You see, Ferdinand was about settle back and enjoy another quiet day under the cork tree, when his behind collided into the wrong end of a bee. Needless to say, it hurt. So, the men cart Ferdinand, the craziest and fiercest bull they find, off to Madrid on fight day. Ferdinand’s day in the bullring is an education in the historical and cultural traditions of bullfight, but there is also a lesson in peace with oneself and others.
The Story of Ferdinand was created as a forum to showcase the talents of Robert Lawson, a relatively unknown illustrator and a good friend of the book’s author Munro Leaf. I love the simplicity of the illustrations. Just black line ink with lots of white space. Lawson has an incredible ability to say a lot with his illustrations with very little ink. His minimalistic approach and use of white space in his compositions make for good design (one almost wonders if he had any graphic design training). Another great design idea is the bright red cover (red being the colour of a bull fighter’s cape). It really packs a punch, screaming “look at me and buy me,” when lined up on store shelves with a million or so other books.
The book was published nine months before the outbreak of the Spanish Civil War. The story was set in Spain and its underlining lesson of non-violence made it a popular target of the right wing, so much so that it was banned in many countries. In Nazi Germany, the book was even burned during mass book burnings. It has been viewed by many political critics as a satirical attack on aggression. Ferdinand’s peace-loving ways, and the suppression of the book due to its pacifist themes, prompted left-wing groups to use The Story of Ferdinand as propaganda for social change.
There are many possible interpretations of The Story of Ferdinand, depending on the reader and the era in which he or she lives. One could walk away with food for thought about social change, or a tool for political propaganda, or maybe, simply, a life lesson to just be yourself. At the very least, they have had the pleasure of reading a truly great book.
The Story of Ferdinand, a children’s book review by Thao Lam
Author Munro Leaf
(December 4th, 1905 to December 21st, 1976)
American author Munro Leaf was said to have dashed off The Story of Ferdinand in less than an hour one afternoon. He was born in Hamilton, Maryland on December 4th, 1905 as Wilbur Monroe Leaf, and later graduated from the University of Maryland and Harvard with a master’s degree in English literature. Before embarking on a 40-year career as an author, he taught secondary school and worked as an editor for Frederick A. Strokes Publishing. Leaf wrote and illustrated nearly 40 books before passing away on December 21st, 1976.
Illustrator Robert Lawson
(October 4th, 1892 to May 27th, 1957)
An author and illustrator of more than 50 children’s books, Robert Lawson was the first person ever to receive two of publishing’s most prestigious awards: the Newbery Medal, for Rabbit Hill in 1945, and the Caldecott Medal, for They Were Strong and Good in 1941. Born October 4th, 1892 in New York City, he showed an early interest in illustration. Lawson spent three years under the guidance of illustrator Howard Giles at the New York School of Fine and Applied Art (now known as Parsons College). Upon graduation, Lawson started publishing his illustrations in magazines and in the commercial field.
Lawson served as a camouflage artist during World War I. He was a member of he first U.S. Army camouflage unit (the American Camouflage Corps). He served in France alongside other illustrators; when they were not on the battleground, they were putting on musical shows for the children of the French women who worked in the camp.
Lawson’s working philosophy was to never insult a child’s intelligence by revising an illustration concept or changing a word or phrase under the pretext of bringing it down to their level. He lived by this until his death on May 27th, 1957.
Publisher Viking Juvenile (January 1, 1936)