In 1935 Munro Leaf apparently wrote a little story about a kind and gentle bull in order to give his friend, virtually unknown artist, Robert Lawson a subject to illustrate. [Lawson went on to later win both the Caldecott and Newberry medals]
When the book was subsequently published in 1936, just nine months before the outbreak of the Spanish Civil War, this charming story attracted far more attention than either might have assumed. Franco’s supporters denounced it as ‘pacifist’ and not much later in Nazi Germany, Hitler ordered it burned for similar reasoning. Mahatma Gandhi proclaimed it openly as his favourite children’s book and apparently even Stalin allowed it to remain available in communist Poland.
All that aside, the tale about a little bull who prefers to sit peacefully and smell beautiful flowers rather than butt heads with all the other calves has remained a favourite of thousands of readers all around the world. In 2011 at the time of its 75th anniversary, the book had sold millions of copies and been translated into 60 languages. Not bad for a story which is rumoured to have been written in just one afternoon!
When five men from the bullfights in Rondo come to choose from the newly grown bull calves, Ferdinand is the only one who remains unperturbed and uninterested. While the other young bulls caper and try to impress, Ferdinand continues with his usual pastime of smelling the flowers – until he accidentally sits on a bee! Going mad with the pain from the of the sting, Ferdinand’s wild careering across the fields convinces the selectors that he is just the ferocious bull they need.
The debut of Ferdinand the ‘Ferocious’ along with a most handsome matador is a great drawcard for the ladies of the town and of course, Ferdinand, not being a fighter, is far more interested in the flowers the ladies wear in their hair much to everyone’s disappointment. Ferdinand is sent home to his pasture where he spent the rest of his life happily among the perfumed meadow flowers.
Ferdinand has been honoured in many ways, particularly cinematic tributes but probably the best known of these is the 1938 Walt Disney short animated film (with apparently the central matador figure modelled on Walt himself!).
Just to get some idea of the extraordinary impact of Ferdinand – click on the image below to go to the Google gallery of images of everyone’s favourite bull – everything from tattoos to jigsaw puzzles to china figurines – fascinating!!