Tuesday, April 13, 2021

The Story of Ferdinand by Munro Leaf - sitting quietly and smelling the flowers with the 1936 Club

Title: The Story of Ferdinand
Author: Munro Leaf (1905-1976)
Illustrator: Robert Lawson (1892-1957)
Publication: Viking Press, hardcover, 1936
Genre: Picture Book
Setting: Spain
This week Simon from Stuck in a Book and Karen from Kaggsy’s Bookish Ramblings are hosting the 1936 Club, where bloggers read and write about books published in a chosen year.

Description: Everyone knows the story of a bull who would rather smell flowers than engage in bullfights. However, when Ferdinand is stung by a bee, his reaction is mistaken for ferocity and he is brought to Madrid for a bullfight. Once in the arena, he is interested in the flowers in the lady spectators’ hair but ignores the matador, much to everyone’s annoyance, so he is taken home in disgrace.
My Impression: Anita Silvey in Children’s Books and Their Creators describes how The Story of Ferdinand created a global controversy as one of the first picture books to be considered subversive. It was banned in Spain, “burned as propaganda by Hitler, and labeled in America as promoting fascism, anarchism, and communism.” Others saw it as a symbol of pacifism. Leaf protested he only wrote the story to entertain. He worked in publishing himself and had written the story in less than an hour on a yellow legal pad, intending for his friend Robert Lawson to illustrate it because Lawson felt he was feeling limited by publishers.  

Illustrator Lawson won the Caldecott in 1941 for They Were Strong and Good, a story about his forbears: “None of them,” he says, “were great or famous, but they were strong and good.” In 1945, he won the Newbery Medal for Rabbit Hill, which I often saw at the library but never felt impelled to read it, not being a big fan of animal books. One example of Lawson’s sense of humor is that he drew corks growing from the cork tree in Ferdinand.
image copyright to Penguin Putnam
I don’t remember a time before I knew Ferdinand. My mother also likes to sit and smell the flowers so perhaps that is why she read it so frequently to my sister and me. Coincidentally*, she recently came across my childhood copy – I was surprised to see it had belonged to my aunt Adrienne before me – and it was within arm’s length when I realized it was first published in 1936. The book was translated into 60 languages and has never been out of print, making both Leaf’s and Lawson’s reputations. Their second collaboration was called Wee Gillis, about a Scottish orphan who lives neither in the Highlands or Lowlands but halfway between, and was a Caldecott Honor Book in 1939.

Lessons from Ferdinand: Writer’s Digest provides five lessons for writers which are quite apt, including the fact that sometimes you will get stung!

Fun Fact: The Marquis Who Was Who in America 1607-1984 says that Leaf taught from 1920-30 at Belmont Hill, a boys’ school near Boston that a number of my friends attended. He then earned a Master’s degree at Harvard before going on a career in publishing and as an author.

Source: Family copy
The marks on the right hand side are where little Con pasted
stars into her book, which another sibling indignantly removed

* Is it Poirot who says there are no coincidences? Or DCI Nelson? Or all our favorite detectives?


kaggsysbookishramblings said...

Weirdly, I've never heard of this so maybe it never made its way over the pond. But it sounds just lovely and the pictures are wonderful! Thanks for sharing this for 1936!

Lark said...

I had a copy of this one growing up, and I've always loved this quiet little story. :)

Katrina said...

I was beginning to feel like I must have been living down a hole as I've never heard of this one either. Kaggsy's comment made me feel better! It's lovely that your copy is a family one. I'm going to have to try to track a copy down - and Wee Gillis of course.

CLM said...

I thought of you when I read about Wee Gillis, Katrina! If it was translated into 60 languages, I'd be surprised if it never reached England but it might simply not have been popular at the right time.

Simon T (StuckinaBook) said...

I've never heard of this, but gosh it sounds wonderful. Thanks for adding to the club!

Jeanne said...

I had a copy of this, growing up, and have always used it as a metaphor and read it to my own kids, but then my kids would claim they didn't remember it and I would retell the story and then they would forget it again. I find it unforgettable, but my offspring evidently find it quite forgettable. I don't know why that is.

Deniz Bevan said...

I recently reread the story that Hemingway wrote in response to Ferdinand and, as much as I love many of Hemingway's stories, and as much as he has the power to elevate writing about bullfighting (and boxing) to something akin to poetry, I still prefer Ferdinand!

Judy Krueger said...

How cool that you have that childhood copy! I haven't read this one but I have read many of the books illustrated by Robert Lawson.

Ruthiella said...

That's so neat that this is your family copy! I read this as a child as well. It was my brother's book and I have fond memories of reading it and loving the illustrations. Also, it as such a great message, though as a kid, I cared more about the pictures!