If you have children or have ever been a child you’re probably very familiar with the story of Ferdinand The Bull or as the book is properly titled, The Story of Ferdinand.
“Once upon a time in Spain there was a little bull and his name was Ferdinand,” the book, illustrated with simple black-and-white ink drawings, begins. Uninterested in the antics of the other young bulls, “He liked to sit just quietly and smell the flowers.”
It was published in 1936, shortly before the beginning of the Spanish Civil War simply as a showcase for the illustrator but was interpreted as a piece of pacifist propaganda. It was met with bans in many countries for its non-violence sentiment but overcame the odds to become a worldwide bestseller, translated into more than 60 languages and still sells well today.
The Story of Ferdinand was written by Munro Leaf and illustrated by Robert Lawson, the only person ever to win both the Caldecott and Newbery Medals, top prizes for children’s literature. The images of Ferdinand are lovely and whimsical, the Spanish countryside is rolling and beautiful and the matadors, the banderilleros and the picadors are dignified if not a bit silly.
The book authentically reproduces the Spanish landscape from the city of Ronda in Andalucía as well as the Puente Nuevo bridge spanning the El Tajo canyon. Ronda is home to the oldest bullfighting ring in Spain. The book takes the focus away from the brutality of the bullfights and lays it on the broad shoulders of a kind-hearted bovine who is loved for his lovability. For when Ferdinand refuses to fight he is simply returned home to his beloved cork tree to continue smelling the flowers.
Ferdinand can be seen and heard in a variety of other works inspired by the book. He won an Academy Award for Best Animated Short Subject in 1938, has inspired at least two classical music interpretations and was even serenaded by the Lennon Sisters (worth viewing!) in the song, “Ferdinand the Bull”. The lyrics capture the tender spirit of the bull, “He was gentle and kind/ And his moo was refined/Which the rest of the bulls all resented,” and “He knew how to tango/And dance the fandango/But he never learned how to fight.”
Ferdinand will always have a special place in the hearts of children, their parents and their grandparents as the anti-bully; the giant who chose to be gentle. He is content to sit amidst nature and simply be.
If you’d like to explore the landscape of Spain that inspired a story loved by millions how about an excursion led by Conexus International? We can show you Ferdinand’s world in the countryside of Andalucía and in the bustling Spanish cities rich in culture and tradition. Conexus focuses on the kind of immersion experiences that bring a bit of Spain to your heart and your mind and for a while make you an honorary citizen. Please call today if you’d like to learn more.