‘The Story of Ferdinand’ by Munro Leaf

This was a magical book, originally belonging to my mother. It had black and white full page drawings and minimal text.  The cover was faded red and it was an unusual size – flat and square.Ferdinand was a young bull in Spain and you meet him sitting quietly in a field smelling the flowers whilst his friends strut and puff, trying to be grown up fighting bulls.  Some years later, men come to choose the biggest, fastest, roughest bull for the bull fights in Madrid.  The other bulls show off but Ferdinand wanders off to sit underneath his favourite cork tree.  He sits on a bee!  The picture shows him leaping into the air in fright and pain.  He is chosen!  He is taken to town in a wooden cart past beautiful women with flowers in their hair. When Ferdinand enters the bull ring he sits down to smell the flowers worn by the women.  He doesn’t fight. The Banderilleros, the Picadores and the Matador, in their finery and pomposity, cannot make him angry and eventually he is taken home.

Remembering the story now, I am filled with the wonder, the humour, the charm and the atmosphere of this simple book.  I, or my mother, coloured in one of the pictures – very carefully, and whilst the book could really not be bettered I think the colouring added a little bit to the magic.

When I went home to look for the book I came across others which were equally important and they seemed to have a common thread –  the main character being taken from his/her environment to a place (usually the city) and finally returning home to familiar surroundings.  Maybe they were touching a common childhood fear of leaving home to enter the wider world.

One of these books was The Possum That Didn’t – another enchanting tale. He hung upside down, as possums do, and people from the city assumed he was unhappy because his smile was facing the wrong way.  They took him to the town and as he got sadder he looked as though he was smiling and the people won medals!  He eventually escaped and went back to his tree. “He smiled when the sun was shining, he smiled when the moon was shining, he smiled when nothing was shining”.  The old ones are the best!

Leaf, Munro (1937) The Story of Ferdinand

Hamish Hamilton, London

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