Munro Leaf & Robert Lawson – The Story of Ferdinand

The STory of Ferdinand

Munro Leaf and Robert LawsonThe Story of Ferdinand (The Viking Press, 1936)

One of the great children’s books.  Robert Lawson’s black and white illustrations are exceptional in their detail and clarity, yet those qualities are focused on distinct characters and objects with much white space creating a sense of freedom.  The story by Munro Leaf is a kind of happier version of Herman Melville‘s short story Bartleby, the Scrivener.  Ferdinand is a bull in Spain who does not want to be a part of bullfights.  He wants to sit quietly under his favorite cork tree and smell the flowers.  When stung by a bee and jumping about in pain, he confuses a group of men, who have come to select a bull for fights in Madrid, making them think that he is ferocious.  But when brought to a bullfighting ring (to his death), he merely sits down in the middle of the ring to smell the flowers in the hair of the ladies in the audience, and refuses to participate.  So Ferdinand is taken back to the country where he can smell the flowers.  And he was happy.  In this story, which describes the power of an individual to resist the violence of institutions, it is one of the most radical bestselling books in America (following the likes of Looking Backward).