The launch of the Kindle got me thinking about all the things an e-reader can never be. You can't inscribe it to a loved one or press flowers between it's pages. It can never be an object, loved and cherished and passed from person to person, with any history. Your children cannot draw upon the pages and fill it with precious memories. Illustrations look terrible on it, especially art, which needs a grand scale. For these reasons and many more, help me celebrate the real thing: dusty old books!

Thursday, 19 November 2009

The Story of Ferdinand

I'm sure many people are familiar with this children's classic - the first book about "pacifism" I ever read - but I hate the thought of anyone missing out, so just in case... here it is. The story, by Munro Leaf is deceptively simple and begins: "Once upon a time in Spain..."

What follows is a beautifully shaped fable with superb drawings by Robert Lawson, and was first published in 1936. Ferdinand is not like other bulls. They all butt their heads and fight. But Ferdinand prefers to sit in the pasture under his favourite cork tree and just smell the flowers. As he grows older his mother worries - but "even though she was a cow" (cue much hilarity) eventually understands her calf is happy.

One day the other bulls are showing off to impress the matadors, hoping to be picked for the bull fight.

However when Ferdinand accidently sits on a bee, the matadors misinterpret his apparent wildness and take him away to Madrid, where "all the lovely ladies have flowers in their hair..."

Astonishingly, the book was banned in Spain and Nazi Germany as subversive, yet the conclusion is as touching and tender as Ferdinand himself - but I won't give it away just in case this little gem has slipped through your literary net. If so, seek it out and fall under it's kindly spell. My copy may be dusty and old and falling apart, but it has been reprinted many times and I hope it is still in print!


  1. The Story of Ferdinand had indeed escaped me so thank you for sharing and... for not spoiling the ending, James! The next time I'm in Barter Books (possibly the best bookshop in the England) I will track it down - I'm pretty sure they'll have an old, dusty copy kicking about somewhere. The artwork looks wonderful too!

  2. The story was written just for the illustrator, and it's a great pairing. Hope you enjoy it when you find it!

  3. I love looking at all these posts, James! Makes me want to look at all the old books in our house (and trust me there are MILLIONS- we have a second hand bookshop, we specialize in children's illustrated, local history, military, transport and Bronte interest) So all of my special books are at home-home but I do have a rather nice copy of The Magic Pudding by Norman Lindsay here in Cambridge! It's a 1960 Australian reprint with dust jacket. I believe this story is simply about an ill-mannered pudding.

  4. I haven't read it but I want to. Must find a copy. I love the bee's expression 'uh oh'! :)

  5. Goodness only knows what you'll make of this, James, but I've just nominated you for two blogging awards. Follow the link to find out more, but don't feel obliged to accept them.

    Hope you and your family are well.


  6. I am ashamed to say I've only met Ferdinamd through the cartoon version but these illustrations are quite beautiful. I must track a copy down. Love the look of your blog, I will carry on reading.

  7. What's that Thomas??? There are AWARDS for such ditties? Whatever next. Thank you kindly. If I can discover how such things work I should reciprocate the compliment as I love reading your blog. It's wonderfully funny and genuinely well-written.