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The Story of Ferdinand

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Cover art for The Story of Ferdinand the bull
Penguin

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Introduction

More than 75 years ago, Munro Leaf wrote The Story of Ferdinand and his friend Robert Lawson illustrated the story. Ferdinand is a bull, who grows up with other young bulls in the pastures of Spain, an unlikely character and setting for a children’s picture book. The story revolves and grows around Ferdinand’s unique, gentle nature compared to the other bulls who like to fight with each other. A little longer text than most picture books, the story can be enjoyed on different levels by children 3 years old and up, as well as older children and adults.

 

 

More About the Story

As time goes by Ferdinand becomes bigger and stronger like all the other bulls he's growing up with in the countryside of Spain. But his nature does not change. While the other bulls continue to enjoy butting and sticking each other with their horns, Ferdinand is happiest when he can sit quietly under the cork tree and smell the flowers. Of course, Ferdinand’s mother is concerned that he does not run and play with the other bulls, but she is understanding and wants him to be happy.

And happy he is until one day he sits on a bumblebee while five men are visiting to pick the best bull for the bull fights in Madrid. Ferdinand’s reaction to the bee sting is so strong and fierce that the men know they have found the right bull...or have they? The day of the bullfight is incredible, with flying flags, bands playing, and lovely ladies with flowers in their hair. The parade into the bullring includes the Banderilleros, the Picadores, the Matador, and then comes the bull...”Ferdinand the Fierce,” as they call him. What does Ferdinand do after he runs to the middle of the ring? Does he fight fiercely? Does he butt and snort? Or does he remain true to his gentle nature?

 

 

Although labeling stories as classics may be overdone, The Story of Ferdinand is truly a timeless classic that has been enjoyed worldwide for several generations. Translated into 60 different languages, Ferdinand is a playful and funny story that will have appeal simply for its humor, or for its many messages. Readers will each discover their own piece of wisdom, such as: be true to yourself; the simple things in life give the most pleasure; take time to smell the flowers; and even advice for mothers raising a child with introvert tendencies.

Although the black and white illustrations are different from most modern picture books, this is a feature that fits with this peaceful tale. The vocabulary is for an older reader but even three year olds can be amused and enjoy the comforting story. Most adults will likely be familiar with The Story of Ferdinand. If not, you won’t want to overlook this one. I recommend it for every home library. (Penguin, 1936. ISBN: ISBN 9780670674244)

Illustrator Robert Lawson

Robert Lawson received his art training at the New York School of Fine and Applied Arts. His favorite medium, pen and ink, is used expressively and with detail in the black and white illustrations in The Story of Ferdinand. He did not illustrate just to reach a young audience, as shown in the details of the flowers in the ladies’ hair, the clothes of the Banderilleros, and the expressions of the Picadores. Additional readings will bring about humorous discoveries, like the bandages on the bulls and the bunches of cork growing in Ferdinand’s favorite tree.

 

In addition to illustrating many children's books by others, including Mr. Popper's Penguins, Robert Lawson also wrote and illustrated a number of his own books for children. Lawson had the distinction of winning the two most prestigious awards for children's literature. He won the 1940 Randolph Caldecott Medal for his picture book illustrations for They Were Strong and Good and the 1944 John Newbery Medal for his book Rabbit Hill, a novel for middle grade readers.

(Source: JVJ Publishing:Illustrators)

Author Munro Leaf and The Story of Ferdinand

Munro Leaf, born in Hamilton, Maryland in 1905, graduated from the University of Maryland and received an MA in English literature from Harvard University. He wrote more than 40 books during his career, but the book that gained the most popularity was about gentle Ferdinand the bull. The Story of Ferdinand was penned on a rainy Sunday afternoon in just 40 minutes for his friend, Robert Lawson, who felt constricted by publishers’ ideas.

 

Leaf wanted to give Lawson a story that he could have fun illustrating. There are those who considered The Story of Ferdinand to have a political agenda since it was published in September of 1936 during the Spanish Civil War. However it was actually written in October of 1935 and Leaf and his family always denied any political intentions. According to Munro Leaf, "it’s 'a happy-ending story about being yourself.'”(Source: School Library Journal) Leaf’s second most popular book, Wee Gillis, was also illustrated by his friend Robert Lawson. Leaf, who died in 1976 at the age of 71, had intended to write a book about how Ferdinand had given him a good life. He was known to say, “I’m going to call it ‘A Little Bull Goes a Long Way’.” (Source: Find A Grave)

(Sources: School Library Journal, Find A Grave, Children’s Literature Network)

More Picture Books From Your Guide Elizabeth Kennedy

When we talk about classic children's picture books, one book that is always mentioned is Where the Wild Things Are, written and illustrated by Maurice Sendak. Another is The Snowy Day by Ezra Jack Keats. Both Keats and Sendak were honored for their illustrations with the prestigious Randolph Caldecott Medal. Another excellent picture book is The Lion and the Mouse, retold and illustrated by Jerry Pinkney, for which he received the 2010 Randolph Caldecott Medal.

 

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