[Editor’s note: the above parenthetical may or may not be entirely concocted by the Editor.]
The Story of Ferdinand, by Munro Leaf, illustrated by Robert Lawson (1936)
In our family, we are big fans of “Being True to Yourself,” but of course that means something different to each person. Part of being true to yourself is going on the journey to figure out who on earth you actually are. Some people, however, are lucky enough to understand very early on who they really are. Some of those people just may turn out to be bulls. Bulls like Ferndinand.
When Ferdinand is growing up, all the other bulls would “run and jump and butt their head together.” You know, like bulls do. But Ferdinand “liked to sit just quietly and smell the flowers.” You know, like bulls DON’T. His mother worries about him, fearing he is lonely and unhappy. Ferdinand does his best to reassure her and she watches him grow up to be quite a substantial bull, despite the fact that he is lacking the more typical bull-type characteristics.
One day, the official bull selection agents for the big bull fights in Madrid arrive in Ferdinand’s field! The other bulls are putting on a fine show of alpha bull behavior, while Ferdinand wanders off to find some flowers to sniff. Unbeknownst to him, the spot where he chooses to sit down for his flower smelling session is occupied by a bumble bee. As bees are wont to do, this bee stings the offending bull’s bottom!
The ensuing puffing, snorting, pawing, and leaping by Ferdinand convinces the men from Madrid that this is JUST the bull for the bull fights!
Amid the festivities of Madrid were lovely ladies with, you guessed it, flowers in their hair. So, with the banderilleros, picadores, and even the Matador himself doing their best to enrage the bull, Ferdinand got to the middle of the ring, saw all the flowers in the lovely ladies’ hair and he just sat down and smelled.
Well, they were all fit to be tied! “The banderilleros were mad and the picadores were madder and the Matador was so made he cried because he couldn’t show off with his cape and sword.” But did Ferdinand let that rattle him? Not a bit.
They had to take him home, where he went on smelling flowers in his favorite spot in his favorite field, unruffled by his brush with fame or the expectations of others to be different than he was at heart. And the book closes with “He is very happy.”
Not a bad little ending.
After all, we are who we are. Our surroundings may change and people may project expectations onto us, but that has little to do with Being True to Yourself. Of this, Ferdinand is a shining example.
My son has always relished this book, seeming to revel in Ferdinand’s unflappable good will and easygoing nature. I’ve always hoped he would see in this tale an affirmation of our acceptance of him, whoever and however he may choose to be.
If you are interested in viewing the Oscar-winning Walt Disney short based on the book, you can do so here. Rumor has it the matador was based on Walt himself…