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The Great Media: "The Story of Ferdinand" or "Ferdinand the Bull"


The Story of Ferdinand  by Munro Leaf was my favorite book as a child.  It is a fairly long book, and rather complex in that it uses a lot of words that are unfamiliar to English-language readers, yet I had it memorized in its entirety when I was 3 years old.  I distinctly remember being read the book many many times, and my mother assures me that she read it to me hundreds if not thousands of times.  

When I had a child of my own, my mother vowed to find the book and give it to her.  We announced my wife's pregnancy a little over 2 years ago now, and she looked for it in vain until recently.  It turned up at my grandmother's house in New Orleans, which they are cleaning up now that she is moving into assisted living.  Had anyone other than my family been doing the cleanup of that particular part of the house, they would not have recognized the significance of the book, and it would have been tossed in the trash or given to the Salvation Army.  

It is old and falling apart, but not from misuse, just from heavy use.  I imagine the book belonged to my older brothers before it belonged to me, which would make it almost 40 years old.

The book, in retrospect, is a very strange children's book.  It is about a bull who grows up on a ranch that trains bulls for the bull fights.  Ferdinand is not interested.  All he wants to do is sit under the cork tree and smell the flowers.  When the scouts come to the ranch, all the other bulls butt their heads and fight to impress the scouts, but Ferdinand just goes to sit under his tree.  When he sits down, he accidentally sits on a bee, which stings him.  He writhes and bucks in pain, and the scouts mistakenly believe Ferdinand is the meanest, toughest, strongest bull around.  He is brought to the bullfighting stadium to fight the matador.

A reader who knows about bull fights would guess at this point that Ferdinand is likely to die soon.

When Ferdinand gets into the ring, he sits down and smells the flowers that are in the ladies' hair.  He does not fight no matter how much he is provoked, and the fight is stopped.  Ferdinand is returned to the ranch and to his cork tree, where, the story says, he probably remains to this day.  The last line of the book is, "He is very happy."

The book itself, I found out later, was written at the outset of the Spanish Civil War and may have been a political statement about pacifism and against the forces of Francisco Franco.  I do not know if it was intended to have any political significance, but the book definitely encourages peacefulness, non-violence, and sensitivity.

I think it's the sort of book that probably does not appeal to most children, but it appealed to me, and still does, even though I think now that the book is remarkably sad at times.  The scene of Ferdinand refusing to fight brings to mind that he must have been tormented terribly by the matador's attendants and the crowd, but still refused to fight.  The sadness is replaced by joy, however, as they eventually respect his wish not to fight and return to the place where he was happiest.