The Story of Ferdinand


Written by Munro Leaf, Illustrated by Robert Lawson

Viking Press, 1936

Once upon a time in Spain there was a little bull and his name was Ferdinand.

Recommended by: Jessica (Illinois) (Also chosen by my friend Ian, but Jessica got it first.)

Who is Jessica? I’m really bad at writing about myself. I love pizza, cats and most other animals as well, theatre, writing, pinball, reading, musics, and horror films.

How did you discover this book? My grandparents gave it to me when I was very little, maybe 5 or 6 years old?

What do you like about it? I love this book so much and wish I still had the copy that my grandparents gave me. I read it so much that I essentially destroyed it. Ferdinand has been a big part of my life in that, whenever things get crazy, I think of him fondly. He taught me that it was ok to be different, perhaps more sensitive than others, and that a huge part of enjoying life is really being able to take in everything around you. I got so upset when they took Ferdinand from the farm and to the bull fighting ring. But I was overjoyed with the ending, and the general message. Not only the “stop and smell the roses” message, but the idea that, just because you think you’re supposed to be one way (like a big, scary bull), that doesn’t mean you have to meet everyone’s stereotypical expectations (he’s more like a cat, to be honest, just lying around, smelling flowers!). You do you!

The plot in a nutshell: A bull goes against grain and refuses to fight

(Jessica included a pretty awesome plot synopsis as well – so I’m using hers!) Ferdinand isn’t like the other bulls, he just likes to chill and smell the roses! But one day, he’s taken to a bull fight and, instead of chasing the matador, I think he lies down and smells all the roses people are throwing. Whomever was running the bull fights knew that Ferdinand was just not going to work out in the life, so *SPOILER ALERT IS ABOUT TO HAPPEN SORRY SORRY SORRY* they sent him back to the farm where he gets to hang out and happily smell all of the roses his giant bull heart desires. (Happiest spoiler ever though, right?!?!?!)

Excellent choice, Jessica. This wonderful book has been a favorite of mine as long as I can remember and is still going strong almost 80 years after its publication. That’s a lot to say for a book that author Munro Leaf apparently jotted down on a legal pad in less than an hour, for the main purpose of giving his friend, Robert Lawson, a story to illustrate. I don’t suppose he could have foreseen the immense popularity of his book, which has been referenced in everything from Sherlock Holmes films to Stephen King novels. And he was likely just as shocked with its controversial side, being condemned by Adolph Hitler as subversive and banned in many countries for promoting pacifism, the very thing that made it a favorite with lots of readers everywhere else. Many people recognize this as the first picture book to address gender norms and appreciate the way it encourages parents to love and support their children unconditionally.

None of these guys can be trusted.  Not one of them.

None of these guys can be trusted. Not one of them.

Mr. Lawson is the only person to have won both the Caldecott and Newbery Medals during his career. His distinctive pen and ink artwork is so perfect in this book, with a great use of perspective and point of view. His artwork was so iconic that the Disney animated short version of this story (released in 1938) matches many of the pictures almost exactly. Fox Animation has optioned the story for an animated film, due to be released in 2017.  This has always been my favorite book to read aloud, especially during the moments when it’s pointed out that Ferdinand’s mother is a cow. (You have to put the pause in there.  “His mother….who was a COW…”) Many wonderful books have come along in my lifetime, but I can’t see this book ever being squeezed out of my All Time Top Ten.

And what did we learn? What I take away from this book is that being true to yourself is so much more valuable than following anyone’s expectations. (Or, as Jessica wonderfully put it: “You do you!”)


2 thoughts on “The Story of Ferdinand

  1. I absolutely love this story. Ferdinand is such a peaceful soul, and you’re right: staying true to who you are is the most important–and often the most difficult–thing you can do. Thanks for reminding me of why this is one of my favorites, too!

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