Friday 25 July 2014

The Story of Ferdinand

Author:  Munro Leaf

Illustrator:  Robert Lawson

Era:  1936

Published:  1936 (The Viking Press, N.Y.)

Award:  none found

Age Range:  0 - 11 years old

Review:  ★★★★

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
source Wikipedia

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)


  •     Pacifism
  •     Self-Contentment
  •     Individuality
  •     Staying true to your nature
  •     Challenging the status quo
  •     Steadfastness & determination
  •     Peace over violence (War)

Bullwrestling (1865-66)
Edouard Manet
source Wikipedia

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:
    The Story of Ferdinand Lapbook
    Teaching The Story of Ferdinand from Five-in-a-Row (blog)

    The Story of Ferdinand - Wikipedia
    The Well-Trained Mind Questions

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  1. I didn't realize that Ferdinand the Bull caused such 'geo-political' protests and even a book ban! I like the new layout of the review, it gives the reader a good way to glance through the important topics you want to express. I'll start my 3rd children's book today!

  2. Thanks, Nancy! I like this layout too, but I'll probably change it up now and then, just to keep it interesting. I'm so glad that you are inspired to read more children's books. I've enjoyed reading your reviews!

  3. I sent a twitter message with this blog link and hope my Dutch library enjoys reading your Master List! Perhaps you will get more 'hits' via The Netherlands....keep close watch!

    1. Thanks, Nancy! What fun! I'll keep my eyes open.

      You've given me an idea. Perhaps I should at some point make an international classic children's book page. I do know some classic French books and I could keep adding countries from there. However, this would have to be in the future, as I have almost too much going on to keep up with now.

      Thanks again!

  4. Wow this is an awesome a middle school teacher I love that I can tell at a glance what this book will help my students to learn. Thanks for the visit over to my blog too :)

    1. Hi Kimberly! I'm glad that you like the format! Having two blogs is quite a challenge in maintaining balance but I should have more posts up soon. Thanks for visiting!

  5. This was one of my absolute favorites when I was a kid. I will never look at it the same after your analysis. It was only a sweet, short story, but it had an important, underlying message.

    1. It is a great book! We used it as a literature study in grade 6 and both my daughter and I were shocked at how much we got out of it!