HOME SCHOOL BOOK REVIEW
Book: The Story of Ferdinand
Author: Munro Leaf
Illustrator: Robert Lawson
Publisher: Penguin Group USA, republished in 1977
Language level: 1 (nothing objectionable)
Reading level: Ages 6-8
Rating: 5 stars (EXCELLENT)
Reviewed by Wayne S. Walker
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Leaf, Munro. The Story of Ferdinand (originally published in 1936). When I was in elementary school, one of my favorite books to read was The Story of Ferdinand (1936) written by American author Munro Leaf and illustrated by Robert Lawson. Ferdinand is a young bull who much prefers sitting quietly under a cork tree and just smelling the flowers while all the other bulls are jumping around, snorting, and butting heads. When he grows big and strong, his calm temperament remains, until he is stung by a bee. It just happens to be the same day that five men come to choose the “biggest, fastest, roughest bull” for the bullfights in Madrid; so they pick the raging Ferdinand. But even there he sits in the middle of the bull ring failing to take heed of any of the provocations of the matador and others to fight.
The book has been criticized (or praised, depending on one’s point of view) as promoting pacifism, but that totally misses the point of the story. It simply encourages each child to be himself rather than feeling forced to conform to the expectations of others and just following the crowd. I appreciated the book because, like Ferdinand, I was different too. Oh, I sometimes played baseball, hide and seek, and tag with the kids at school, but when the other boys went out during recess to kick the football, wrestle, or engage in other rough and tumble activities, I preferred to stay in the classroom and read books. Someone has said, “The Story of Ferdinand closes with one of the happiest endings in the history of happy endings.”
Leaf is said to have written the story on a whim one afternoon in 1935, largely to provide his friend, illustrator Robert Lawson, who was then relatively unknown, a forum in which to showcase his talents. The book was adapted by Walt Disney as a short animated film entitled Ferdinand the Bull in 1938, in a style similar to his Silly Symphonies series, and won the 1938 Academy Award for Best Short Subject (Cartoons). It was also set to incidental music by classical composer Mark Fish to be narrated in concert. This timeless tale of a bull in Spain who doesn’t mind being different from the rest of the herd has withstood the test of many generations and with good reason. Its sense of peace and contentment strikes an instant chord in both youngsters and oldsters alike.