Children’s Book Review
The Story of Ferdinand the Bull by Munro Leaf
by Cindy G. Foust
It was bound to happen at some point during the writing of this column…a book review, that is. As a children’s book author, I am ask quite frequently about children’s literature. As a matter of fact, it is quite possibly the most common thing that both children and adults ask my opinion on. Let me make one thing clear, I do not have a degree in children’s literature, but I have been studying my industry for nearly twenty years. Furthermore, I have been reading and researching children’s literature for the last fifteen years on a daily basis. Not because it’s my “job” but because I have a fifteen year old son that I have read to since he was born, (Well, not so much in the last few years, as that would be perceived as ‘weird’ to have your mom read aloud to you when you are a pre-teen, tween or whatever the appropriate word might be), and what I continue to do with my 8-year old daughter. So, let me set the record straight, I have done my share of reading to my children.
The studies are out there, in abundance, and in fact, I have written earlier columns on the quite popular subject of reading to your children. So, let’s not belabor that. Let’s do however, visit a subject that will give me great pleasure to write about, and that is The Story of Ferdinand the Bull…my first official book review. This is the one book that stands out for this writer, hands down, as my all time favorite. Let me begin by saying that this book was published in 1936 (the year Franklin D. Roosevelt was president and Gone with the Wind was published). Let me next say that Munro Leaf, the book’s author, was way ahead of his time. In this crazy, somewhat skewed world we live in, children today are faced with many challenges, as they navigate their way to “teen-dom” (just call me Dr. Seus, another literary giant, as I have started making up my own words). These challenges and trying times often include self-esteem issues that can result in adverse outcomes.
It’s tragic, for me, as a parent, and as a children’s book writer, to watch the expectations that parents put on their children, and the expectations these kids are putting on themselves. Munro Leaf must have sensed this vibe, even way back in 1936 when he wrote Ferdinand because he was spot on with his story. Quite simply, Ferdinand was his own bull. He liked what he liked, he enjoyed himself under his cork tree, and it wasn’t necessary for him to follow the crowd…he was comfortable with himself. What a message for young readers these days, from this timeless treasure, that it’s okay to be who you are. It sounds so cliché, but every child in this universe is individual and unique. Each child, unless pressed upon by their parents, should be able to determine their likes, their dislikes, their interests and be able to do what gives them happiness to do. Some of these children are happy on a ball field; some are happy in the band; some are happy in a dance studio or reading a book…but nonetheless, something in the heart of a child is his or her passion.
Every time I read Ferdinand the Bull to my children, I find myself grading my own parenting skills. Am I allowing each one of my children to be who they are? Are my children enjoying what they are doing, or is it something they feel that their parents want them to do? After all, it is their life…not mine. Like most any other parent, I want my children to excel at what makes them happy, and if simply sitting under a cork tree (provided they go to college) makes them happy, then so be it. Munro Leaf got it right…some “bulls” quite simply are happy just to sit under their cork tree and smell the flowers, rather than be a fighting bull. I would encourage the BayouLife readers who do not own Ferdinand the Bull to at least check it out of the library and read it with your children…even if they have outgrown children’s books. Even though it was written over 70 years ago, it’s a relevant story with a great message to young readers…it’s okay to be who you are and embrace the things you love, despite what the ‘crowd” might be doing. And like Ferdinand, get your joy from the place that makes you happy, even if it’s under the cork tree smelling flowers. Sounds like a little piece of heaven to me.