Tuesday 2 December 2014

The story of Ferdinand by Munro Leaf

The story of Ferdinand by Munro Leaf, illustrated by Robert Lawson (first published by Viking Press in 1936; published Picture Puffins 1977; reprinted numerous times)

About 70 pgs with large print on one side and charming, full page black and white illustrations on the facing page

Subjects: peace, pacifism, Spain, animals, fable, picture books (Year 2-6)


I've included this title because I think that the topic of children’s war books should also include children’s books about peace – and the story of Ferdinand is one of the most famous, as well as the most charming!  

(From the Wellington City Libraries catalogue record)
“A true classic with a timeless message, The Story of Ferdinand has enchanted readers since it was first published in 1936. All the other bulls would run and jump and butt their heads together. But Ferdinand would rather sit and smell the flowers. So what will happen when our pacifist hero is picked for the bullfights in Madrid?”

This School Library Journal review lists it amongst the top 100 picture books and includes a number of the illustrations, as well as a clip from an Oscar-winning Disney cartoon short (1938). 

It is also listed in 100bookseverychildshouldreadbeforegrowingup. (Pause here while you count how many of the 100 you have read.) 

The Story Philosophy site uses it as a starter for discussion on animal rights, violence, conformity and obedience to authority. 

About the author
Munro Leaf (1905-1976) was an American teacher, football coach and author of over 30 books for children. The story of Ferdinand was his most well-known and has been translated into over sixty languages.

This author profile contains a lovely description of how the book came to be written:
“Munro Leaf and his friend, award-winning artist and writer Robert Lawson, had been talking about the kind of book they would want to write if they could get past the publisher’s ideas of what made a good book. It took him less than an hour - “25 minutes on a rainy Saturday” - to scribble down the story on a yellow pad of paper. With Lawson’s illustrations, the beatific bull was on his way to becoming internationally famous for his peaceful message in 1936--a time when the world was coming apart in war.”

About the illustrator
Robert Lawson (1892-1957) studied at the New York School of Fine and Applied Arts, served in WW1 designing camouflage and illustrated for books as well as magazines. He once said: "I have never, as far as I can remember, given one moment's thought as to whether any drawing that I was doing was for adults or children. I have never changed one conception or line or detail to suit the supposed age of the readers." (Hornbook, 1940)

Other books you might like:
My brother’s war by David Hill is a fictional treatment of pacifism, seen through the eyes of two brothers who sign up and refuse to sign up for WW1 at the same time.
Other fables about war and peace include The duck and the gun by Joy Cowley, illustrated by Robyn Belton and The general by Michael Foreman.

What was happening in 1936
  • George VI was crowned king of England after his brother Edward’s abdication.
  • The Spanish Civil War was being fought.
  • It was 18 years since the end of WW1, and the start of WW2 was only three years away.
  • Hitler had become Chancellor of Germany in 1933
Despite these events, and the looming threat of war, Munro Leaf always denied any political intentions; he said, "it’s 'a happy-ending story about being yourself.'”(Source: School Library Journal)

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