Thursday, December 24, 2009

The Story of Ferdinand: A Satire on Aggression

Considered a classic of children’s literature and a satire on aggression, The Story of Ferdinand (1936) is perhaps the best-known work by American author Munro Leaf (1905-1976), who worked in collaboration with illustrator Robert Lawson (1892–1957). It is about a gentle bull who prefers smelling flowers to fighting aggressively in a ring like other bulls. When Ferdinand gets stung by a bee, his reaction is mistaken for bravery and he is eventually taken to participate in a bull fight in Madrid. Once in the ring, however, Ferdinand chooses to smell the flowers in a señoritas hair over participating in a bullfight. Published shortly before the outbreak of the Spanish Civil War (1936–1939), the book ignited a political controversy soon after its release. Leaf’s tale of a Spanish bull who refuses to fight in Madrid was interpreted by many critics as supporting a non-intervention stance on the war.

Despite its success, The Story of Ferdinand had been originally turned down by Little, Brown and Company in Boston and was barely accepted for publication by Viking for a small print run of 500 copies. As a children’s book, The Story of Ferdinand was moderately successful, with 8,000 copies sold in its first six months of publication. However, sales sky-rocketed to 8,000 copies a week, once it drew the attention of an adult market with its satiric and controversial implications. Today the book is an international classic with translations in over 60 languages. After World War II, the book became recognized as an international symbol of peace.

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