In September of 1936, the Spanish Civil War had been raging for about 3 months. Tensions were high in the country, and in the world at large, but a children’s book about peace and happiness was also just released. The book was called The Story of Ferdinand, and it was written by an American author named Munro Leaf with illustrations by Robert Lawson. Because of high tensions in the world, the book spurred a ton of controversy. The story has since seen a comeback, with a new adaptation called Ferdinand having been released on December 15th.
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It’s a tale of a large bull named Ferdinand who doesn’t care for fighting, and instead enjoys idly strolling through his pasture, smelling the flowers that grow there. His life is disrupted when a ring of men approach his pen to hand-pick the largest and most aggressive bulls for bullfighting. Unfortunately for Ferdinand, at that same moment, he is stung by a bee and begins bucking and kicking around violently. The men choose him for his size and mistake his pain for aggression.
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Eventually, Ferdinand is returned to his pasture, as everybody discovers he’s ridiculously gentle. Instead of fighting in his debut fight, he chooses to smell the flowers placed in the hair of surrounding women. The book ends by describing Ferdinand’s continued delight of the smell of the flowers that grow in his pasture.
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The book was met with a ton of controversy when it was released. While some readers found it inspiring and beautiful (during its third year of publication it was selling 3,000 copies a week), others found it not only disrespectful but pacifistic, which was most unwelcome to many leaders around the world. Nazi Germany had the book burned, for instance. It was deemed to be propaganda for both Communism and Fascism.
But the actual message is so much simpler than that: it is a wholesome tale of peace and beauty. We hope that the new adaptation of The Story of Ferdinand will remind us how important it is to stop and smell the flowers,to admire the beauty of the world that surrounds us, and to not judge a harmless and kind bull by his otherwise fearsome-looking appearance.
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