For our first post on this Traditional Thursday, we have selected The Story of Ferdinand by Munro Leaf. First published in 1936, the story of Ferdinand the bull has endured the test of time. Ferdinand is unlike most calves: he prefers to spend his time in the field smelling the flowers under his favorite cork tree instead of galavanting and rough-housing with his peers. Ferdinand’s temperament does not change as he matures into a full-grown bull: when the time comes for the matadors to select bulls to showcase in Madrid’s bull fights, Ferdinand has no desire to compete. He seeks refuge under his cork tree while the other bulls boast their athleticism in the pastures until an unexpected visitor arrives. While situating himself cozily under his favorite tree, he unknowingly sits atop a bee. The bee’s ensuing sting instigates Ferdinand’s uncharacteristic behavior: he goes crazy, winning himself an unwanted trip to Madrid. However, without the spark of a bee sting, Ferdinand’s characteristically calm demeanor returns in Madrid much to the matador’s dismay. His disappointing performance infuriates the audience but gives Ferdinand exactly what he wants. He returns to the pasture where he lives happily ever after, underneath the cork tree, smelling the flowers.
Ferdinand’s story conveys a powerful, positive message about personality. Unbothered by his interests differing from other calves’, Ferdinand demonstrates for children that individuality is respectable. More specifically, when Ferdinand is only aggressive in reaction to pain, Leaf praises passivity in The Story of Ferdinand. For this reason, we believe that The Story of Ferdinand could effectively teach students to embrace personal differences. This book could be used as an introduction to a unit that dissects and extols individual personality traits.
In this uplifting, lesson-filled story, we have also identified some noteworthy concerns. The word selection and the length of the story make this appropriate for first through third graders. However the imbedded morals about personality and introversion would be difficult for children this age to extract. For older students more capable of identifying deeper meaning within the story, the plot is too childish. Also, given a storyline best suited for very young children, the book’s illustrations are not sufficiently eye-catching. We thought occasional splashes of color to accentuate the important elements of each illustration would help to direct the attention of non-reader and early-reader audiences.
Written by: Amanda Bunten and Melissa Hunt