Happy Friday! The format is a little different this week. Instead of featuring three books my kids are loving, I’m going to review one, because I loved it so much and because I think it remains an extremely important book for kids of all ages today. (And to be honest, I think some adults could learn a lesson or two from it.)
The Story of Ferdinand by Munro Leaf is a children’s classic. It is a children’s classic that I didn’t read until this year. I know, I know. Surely I’m not the only one out there who hadn’t read it before. And if I am, please don’t tell me.
I bought this book because I wanted to read it to my kids before the Blue Sky movie version is out in December. Book before the movie, kids, always remember that. I was expecting a simple book about a happy bull that didn’t want to fight. And it is that, but it is also so much more. I was so taken with the message of this book that I did a little research about it. Ferdinand was first published in 1936, and was immediately labeled a pacifist story. Hitler ordered that all copies of this book be burned in Nazi Germany, but Stalin allowed it as the only non-communist children’s book allowed in Poland. It has been called everything from fascist to communist to pacifist to a story about gender nonconformity. And of course, it’s been banned in many countries.
Sounds a little more interesting than a simple story about a bull.
The story is set in Spain. Ferdinand lives on a farm with other bulls. All the other bulls want to socialize and run around and show how tough they are. Ferdinand is perfectly happy sitting under a tree by himself and looking at the flowers. When a bee stings him one day, he runs around in pain, snorting and stamping the ground. He is immediately recruited for bull fighting, and thrust into the ring. Instead of getting angry or scared, he simply sits down and enjoys the flowers all the ladies in the audience are wearing on their heads. He is poked and prodded many times, but he never gives the audience what they want. Ferdinand stays true to his nature.
What immediately struck me was how fantastic this is for kids who are happy being by themselves. Not lonely, and not by themselves against their will, but kids who prefer to sit quietly rather than be in a crowd. Kids are so often told or forced to go play with other kids, to go be social, to play sports. And those things are important. But some kids really, truly aren’t comfortable with any of that, and that’s ok. Ferdinand the bull shows them that even a big, tough bull needs quiet time as well.
It is also a wonderful example of how it’s ok to be different, even though everyone around you acts the same way and expects you to act like them. Ferdinand didn’t let anyone, not even bull fighters with spears who poked at him, change who he was or how he wanted to live. I think that’s a lesson we can all appreciate.
If you’re like me and are new to Ferdinand, please give this one a try. Both of my kids (ages 6 and 8) enjoyed it, and they each understood what the deeper meaning was. This is such a wonderful little book for all ages, and I wish I’d read it sooner!
This is a great article on Huffpost about how to talk to kids about the deeper meanings in Ferdinand.