The Story of Ferdinand – Munro Leaf

POINTS: 5 out of 10.

Bechdel:  0 points
Variety of characters: 0 points
Good story: 2 points
Discretionary ideological points: 3 points

I love Ferdinand. This soft-hearted, pacifist bull who just wants to sit around smelling flowers and minding his business. He is a bull after my own heart.

C loved it too, though admittedly his favourite part was when Ferdinand gets stung on the butt by a bee and goes rampaging around from the pain. Yay five year olds, huh?

The gist of the story is that Ferdinand is not like other bulls. While the other bulls are all about the fighting and the head butting, and they all want to be in the bullfights, Ferdinand just wants to mind his own business, and sit peacefully under a tree smelling the flowers.

But unfortunately, a stinging bee results in the men who come looking for the fiercest bull to think that Ferdinand is, in fact, the fiercest, and they cart him off to the bullfighting.

The story is an awesome testament to the power of pacifism, and, while it may be a bit naive, does show how refusing to engage with the fight can sometimes take the fight out of the opponent. (Alas, I fear that in real life if a bull refused to fight, it probably wouldn’t be taken back to its nice flowery spot under a tree, but that’s a different debate.) It is also ideologically supportive of the idea that it’s good to just be who you are, regardless of the ‘packaging’ in which you come. And that’s an idea I can get behind.

It also calls into question a lot of traditional concepts of masculinity, of which my feminist heart approves. I have long said that patriarchy is bad for men too, and as the mother of a rather gentle empathetic boychild, I love books that show that there are other ways of being a “man”. The bull is an obvious masculine symbol (and the whole Spanish bullfighting matador thing perhaps especially), and having that turned on its head by Ferdinand, who loves flowers and quiet, is a good thing.

I loved this book – the clear text, the simple but amazingly effective black and white line-drawings. Its questioning of the masculinity of bullfighting is pretty revolutionary for a book published in the mid 30s.

Good stuff.

What do you think? Do you love Ferdinand as much as I do? What other children’s books do you know that challenge traditional masculinity?

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