This next story is one that holds a special place in my heart and in my home. We have been reading The Story of Ferdinand to Finn since he was about three and he was his own special Ferdinand.
Munro Leaf and Robert Lawson’s timeless classic, The Story of Ferdinand has been moving audiences for nearly a century and does not look to be going out of style any time soon. Its message of diversity in the community through acceptance is one that children are most receptive to. Because Ferdinand is a bull, his story is an interesting mix of fantastical and historical elements, taking place during bullfighting season, a major element of Spanish culture where this story takes place. Unlike other children’s stories where an animal parodies the lives of humans, Ferdinand is an animal living the life of just that— an animal and has no interest in impressing the humans that intermingle amongst him, much unlike his peers. His mistaken identity as a fierce bull leads him down a path of deep discovery and the ultimate acceptance by his family, his peers, and his community. It is no wonder this book was once famously banned by Nazi Germany but admired by the likes of Gandhi as it possesses all the components to teaching adversity and empathy to both children and adults.
The Story of Ferdinand is an excellent example of a culturally generic piece of children’s literature, as it “include[s] multicultural elements [and] settings, but otherwise [is] focused on universal plots and themes relevant to any culture.” In the case of Ferdinand, that theme was of acceptance and diversity. Ferdinand was different than his peers and wanted to be accepted for who he was, as a gentle bull instead of what society thought he should be— a fierce, fighting bull. It uses elements of Spanish culture such as the setting in Spain, the bull fight, and the traditional characters like the Banderilleros, Picadores, and Matador.
Ferdinand was a beautiful character, bucking gender norms all the way back to 1930! He was not masculine in a society where he was expected to be so, as he wanted to lay with the flowers. He was a gentle soul, and this seems like a very common theme in children’s books nowadays where their parent doesn’t accept them, but then it ultimately has a happy ending. In the illustrations, the women had flowers in their hair; the men were tall and strong and of course, “He wouldn’t fight and be fierce no matter what they did,” which is an important lesson, especially for boys that you don’t have to be rough and tumble just because society tells you to— sensitive is okay, too, it’s not gender exclusive.
My son has been a little trailblazer himself when it comes to gender norms since a very young age. He’s very sensitive, wore “dresses” simply because he liked the bright colors, and overall was just born an EMPATH. I feel truly lucky for this. My little Ferdinand.
Activity Corner: This book could be used in either a school or library to teach diversity in a community through an activity such as creating a book about themselves or creating flags that represent them, like the ones waved during the bull fight for Ferdinand.