Some children’s books stay with us forever. We even reread them as adults. The Story of Ferdinand by Munro Leaf, published in 1936, is one of those books.
In case you spent a deprived childhood without reading the book, let me recap. Ferdinand, the bull, was born on a farm with other bulls who liked to run and jump and butt their heads. But Ferdinand liked to smell the flowers and sit under the cork tree. When some men came from Madrid to “recruit” bulls for fighting, they saw Ferdinand who was puffing and snorting, and butting and pawing. They were delighted and promptly declared him the is fiercest bull of all and loaded him into the cart. What they didn’t know was that Ferdinand had sat on a bee, and was reacting to a bee sting!
The day of the fight arrived. “What a day it was. Flags were flying, bands were playing…and all the lovely ladies had flowers in their hair.”
Alas when Ferdinand entered the bull ring, he promptly sat down in the middle of the ring and stared at the ladies with flowers in their hair. He refused to fight. Ferdinand was then sent home to his favorite pasture and spends his days sitting under the cork tree.
Leaf wrote the 800 words in less than an hour. The reviews of the book were so-so, and sales started out slowly before taking off and selling 3,000 copies a week. The Story of Ferdinand soon knocked Gone With the Wind off the top of the best-seller list. Many of the sales were generated by adults purchasing the book for themselves. However, the book was not without controversy. Although Life Magazine called it, “the greatest juvenile classic since, Winnie the Pooh,” the Cleveland Plain Dealer “accused the book of corrupting the youth of America.”
Ferdinand was accused of being a fascist, a communist, an anarchist, and a pacifist. (Please folks make up your mind!) Hitler burned copies of the translated book, and Spain banned it until after Franco, the dictator, died. H.G. Wells and Gandhi, on the other hand, loved the book and FDR requested a copy be delivered to the White House. Interest in the book has not diminished. Translated into 60 languages, it has never been out of print.
A good children’s book appeals to all ages. As C.S. Lewis said, “A children’s story that can only be enjoyed by children is not a good children’s story.” Munro Leaf says he wrote the book because he wanted to make readers laugh and remind them that Ferdinand wanted to be true to himself. Reading Ferdinand again and again reminds me of just how valuable this lesson is.
The late author lived in a house about two miles from where we live.
TeddyBoy and I would like to thank the current owners of Ferdinand’s House, Margaret and Karol Edward Soltan, who graciously allowed us to trample through their yard for photos.
She is an English professor at the George Washington University, and he is a professor of political science at University of Maryland. The Soltons maintain the bull topiaries in the front yard, an homage to Ferdinand.
TeddyBoy, the kitty in the top photo, did a PawReview of The Story of Ferdinand. Go to: teddyboysinclair.com and read his PawReview.