A FEW OTHER EVENTS FOR
- Happy birthday Felicia Bond (If You Give a Mouse a Cookie) and Ai-Ling Louie (Yeh-Shen: A Cinderella Story From China).
- Itâs Mandela Day. Best birthday wishes to South African peacemaker Nelson Mandela. Read Nelson Mandela: âNo Easy Walk to Freedomâ by Barry Denenberg, Tree Shaker: The Story of Nelson Mandela by Bill Keller, and Peaceful Protest: The Life of Nelson Mandela by Yona Zeldis McDonough, illustrated by Malcah Zeldis.
- Adolf Hitler publishes the first volume of his manifesto, Mein Kampf, on this day in 1925. Read Hitler Youth: Growing up in Hitlerâs Shadow by Susan Campbell Bartoletti.
- In 1932, the United States and Canada sign a treaty to develop St. Lawrence Seaway. Read Paddle-to-the-Sea by Holling Clancy Holling.
- Itâs Global Hug Your Kids Day. Read Hug by Jez Alborough and Hug Time By Patrick McDonnell.
On July 18, 1936, General Francisco Franco led an uprising of army troops in North Africa against the elected government of Spain. So began the Spanish Civil War, sometimes called âthe first media warâ because foreign correspondents and writers became involvedâpeople like Ernest Hemingway and George Orwell. One would not expect this event to have much effect, at all, on American childrenâs books. By and large, childrenâs book publishing in the United States tends to be myopic, focusing inward rather than on world events.
However, timing is everythingâin publishing, then and now. And the Spanish Civil War looms large as the defining publicity event for one of our classic picture books, The Story of Ferdinand. This seventy-page saga, illustrated with black-and-white drawings, began as something of a lark. Munro Leaf felt that bunnies and kittens had been done to death in picture books, and he wanted a more memorable protagonistâso he chose a bull. Robert Lawson, who also lived in New York City at the time, delighted in incorporating visual puns and references into his art. For this Depression Era book, their publisher Viking printed around 1,500 copies. But everyone involved in this creation had some pretty shocking surprises in store.
Because of the Spanish Civil War, people began to look for political messages in this story about a Spanish bull. Some thought it was Fascist, some Socialist, and some Communist. It was banned in Spain and in Germany as degenerate propaganda. But many opinion makersâincluding Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt, Thomas Mann, H. G. Wellsârose to the bookâs defense. When it comes to childrenâs books, any censorship attempt always sells a lot of books. As a society, we simply donât want anyone telling us what our children should or should not read. The next year, eighty thousand copies were sold, and The Story of Ferdinand became a staple on the bestseller list.
Censorship can get books started, but not keep books going. What has sustained The Story of Ferdinand over the years is the wonderful interplay between the Leafâs text and Robert Lawsonâs art. The book does have a messageâbut not one about the Spanish Civil War. Pete Wentz of the rock group Fall Out Boys recently wrote about The Story of Ferdinand: âThe book provides an amazing metaphor for how people can be. There’s something really honorable about following your own path and not doing what’s expected of you. When we recorded âFrom Under the Cork Tree,â we experimented with different sounds. …When we are ninety years old and on our deathbeds, it will matter to us that at least we took chances and followed our own path.â
Seventy-five years after Munroe Leaf wrote The Story of Ferdinand, young readers still respond to its gentle humor, its advocacy of taking oneâs own direction, and its happy ending. Just as Leaf and Lawson believed, the book tells the story of a bull that, in the end, was very happy.
Hereâs a page from The Story of Ferdinand:
All the other bulls ran around snorting and butting, leaping and jumping so the men would think that they were very very strong and fierce and pick them.
Ferdinand knew that they wouldn’t pick him and he didn’t care. So he went out to his favorite cork tree to sit down.
Originally posted July 18, 2011. Updated for .