23 November 2010

The Story of Ferdinand: A timeless tale of peace

When I was a girl, one of my favorite books was The Story of Ferdinand by Munro Leaf. Originally published in 1936, the book was adapted to a Disney film in 1938 and has inspired several songs.  It has been delighting children for 74 years.

I purchased this book for my daughter yesterday, and am excited to share this wonderful tale with her throughout her childhood. As we read it at bedtime, the joys of hearing it as a child came back. And as an adult, this book is even more beautiful than I had remembered. 

In Spain, all young bulls aspire to be ferocious fighters fit to be the star in a bullfight.  All the bulls that is, except Ferdinand. Docile and sweet-tempered, Ferdinand prefers to sit beneath trees and smell flowers.  

One day some fight recruiters are in Ferdinand’s pasture. All the other bulls are showing off, vying to chosen. While beneath a shade tree, Ferdinand is stung by a bee and is sent into a fit of pain.  When the recruiters see this they think he is the fiercest and take him away with them. 

During the fight, Ferdinand sees all the women in the stands with flowers in their hair and sits to admire them. No picador or matador can make him move. No matter how many times they poke or stab him he remains firm.

1) The moral can be interpreted in many ways, and can be taken as deep or superficially as you’d like, but it is basically this: violence is wrong, peace is right. It would seem that Ferdinand is a pacifist, and that is the message I absorbed as a child. 

2) It's okay to be yourself.  Children yearn to fit in, feel accepted, and sometimes that means forgetting who they are.  This story speaks to those feelings.  Ferdinand was different, and chose to live his life differently than those around him---and he's okay with that.  He is happy just the way he is, and that's how we should be as well.

Children may only see the story as one about a sweet and kind bull, and that's okay.  If Ferdinand can teach us all a thing or two about amity and benevolence, and about loving others and oneself, perhaps children will use such values as an athem to live by. 

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