Author: Munro Leaf
Illustrator: Robert Lawson
Published: 1936 (The Viking Press, N.Y.)
Award: none found
Age Range: 0 - 11 years old
A most popular children's book about a young bull who does not wish to go to participate in the bullfights in Madrid, but only wishes to smell the flowers in his field. One day, a sting from a bumblebee causes Ferdinand to bolt and, being mistaken for the fiercest bull of the herd, he is captured and taken to the fights against his will. Yet Ferdinand remains true to his nature and eventually returns to his beloved home.
A matador in full dress in Madrid
Background: Leaf claimed that he decided to write The Story of Ferdinand to give his friend, Robert Lawson, a vehicle to showcase his illustrations. Yet the book was released nine months before the commencement of the civil war in Spain, and it was taken as treatise on the promotion of pacifism. The Spanish leader, Francisco Franco, and his supporters condemned it as propaganda, as did Adolf Hilter, banning the book in Nazi Germany. In contrast, the political left embraced the book; in Poland it was the only non-communist book allowed by Joseph Stalin and, in India, Ghandhi claimed it as his favourite book.
Setting: Spain, the land of the matadores and toreadores. Ferdinand sits in a country field yet soon he is taken to the city. Contrast the two:
Country = pastoral fields, bees, flowers, peace, silence, time to play & romp, time to think ……
City (Madrid) = captivity, loud shouting, crowds, busyness, attacks, violence, etc.
Ferdinand: a young bull who does not behave like the other bulls; he wants to sit in a field and smell the flowers
The other young bulls: they romp and play and want to be chosen for the bullfights in Madrid
Ferdinand's mother: is understanding and nurturing, and supports his unusual nature
The Five Men: arrive from Madrid and wish to find the fiercest bull to participate in the bullfights in their city
The bumblebee: an innocent insect who is following his nature when Ferdinand sits on him. He is at fault for Ferdinand's future troubles
The Banderilleros: They cannot understand Ferdinand's passivity
The Picadores: They attempt to make Ferdinand angry, but fail
The Matador: Ferdinand reduces him to tears when he is unable to make him fight
Ferdinand is the protagonist and the matador the main antagonist. A comparison of the two results in:
Ferdinand: wants peace, quiet and to remain undisturbed. He does not care about what people think of him. He is easygoing and is able to remain true to his nature. The end result is that Ferdinand is victorious.
The Matador: wants the bull to fight so he can gain victory over his opponent, and therefore win the adulation of the crowd. He relies on the bull to assist him in becoming famous. He is incensed when life does not meet his expectations. The end result is that the matador is defeated.
What does the central character want?
- Ferdinand wants to sit in his field and to smell the flowers. He wants peace and quiet.
What keeps him from getting what he wants?
- First of all, the bumblebee that stings him, makes him appear like he is a great fighter. Then the five men from Madrid mistake Ferdinand's frenzied attempt to escape the pain of the sting and decide that he is the fiercest bull, the one they have been searching for. They take him to Madrid.
How does Ferdinand finally get what he wants?
- In Madrid, Ferdinand stays true to his nature, in spite of the many forces pushing him to fight. He refuses to fight and eventually is returned to his meadow.
Conflicts: man vs. nature (Ferdinand vs. the bumblebee), man vs. man
(Ferdinand vs. the five men and the picadores and matador),
and man vs. society (Ferdinand vs. the society that wants
him to fight)
- Staying true to your nature
- Challenging the status quo
- Steadfastness & determination
- Peace over violence (War)
Despite being embroiled in controversy, this book has remained a beloved favourite and has been translated into 60 different languages.
Hemingway wrote a somewhat odd rebuttal to The Story of Ferdinand, called The Faithful Bull.
Resources & Ideas:
(Read in Latin --- with a good dictionary!)