1936 February 04 2018

Today, listening to the rain on the roof, in anticipation of the Super Bowl (fly Eagles, fly!) and still coughing and sneezing, I turn for inspiration to the story of “Ferdinand the Bull”.

As my brother in law and I helped my mother go through a room filled with books many months ago, we came across this wonderful book.  This particular copy was worn, edges torn and brown, the black and white artwork faded.

A classic in every way.

I wondered about the author and the illustrator.  How profound this little tale is.  What inspired it?  Did they have the flu the week before they wrote and drew?

Not exactly.

The author, Munro Wilbur Leaf, lived from 1905 to 1976.  It is said he wrote the entire story in one hour using a yellow legal pad.  It was labeled subversive when it was published in 1936.  “Ferdinand” was seen as pacifist, banned in Spain, and burned in Nazi Germany.  Since then, it has been translated into 60 languages and has never been out of print.

Leaf once said, "Early on in my writing career I realized that if one found some truths worth telling they should be told to the young in terms that were understandable to them."

This should pertain to people of all ages.

The illustrator of “Ferdinand” was Robert Lawson, a friend of Munro Leaf.  Lawson lived from 1892 to 1957 and was admired for the illustrations of children’s books that were central to his professional career.  He is the only person to win both the Newberry Award and the Caldecott Medal. During World War 1, he was a member of the American Camouflage Corps.  It is said that his WWI experiences had a profound effect on him, and he dedicated his life to illustrating and writing children’s stories which all had common themes of peace, understanding, and community.

And so here we have Ferdinand. 

Let’s think about 1936.  The Berlin Olympics and Jesse Owens.  Italy neutralizes the Ethiopian Army.  Nazi Germany re-occupies the Rhineland.  Italy annexes Ethiopia and Addis Ababa.  “Gone with the Wind” is published. The Spanish Civil war begins. In October of 1936, Joseph Stain’s Great Purge begins in the Soviet Union.  “Peter and the Wolf” premieres in Moscow.  In England, King Edward VIII abdicates the throne. This only skims the surface of the tumultuous year of 1936.

Against this backdrop of international chaos, Ferdinand simply stops and smells the flowers.

Small wonder this tale was considered subversive and pacifist.

Contrary to the political structures, “The Story of Ferdinand” is alive and well today.  In 60 languages.  Read to millions of children.  Is a new movie.

While struggling to take the time to fully recover from the flu, I realize that I should remember Ferdinand.  Sometimes just being yourself, in the face of so many conflicting influences is, well, enough. 

More than enough.