No Bullcrap–I Love Ferdinand

So what’s your favorite children’s book?  This may not have been true when I was a kid, but it’s true now.  My favorite children’s book is not the confidence-affirming Little Engine That Could or the aesthetic-inspiring Harold and The Purple Crayon or the didactic The Very Hungry Caterpillar.  It’s The Story of Ferdinand by Munro Leaf.  The bull who preferred lying under a cork tree and smelling the flowers to fighting in the ring embodies non-conformity.  It takes a lot of guts to do what you want and to resist what’s expected of you.  And the fact that Ferdinand understands the value of chilling out is just another attraction.  I’ve spent decades in an occupation where confrontation occurs daily and have spent far too much time surrounded by just too many people who end up entangled in interpersonal sparring.  Life’s too short to do what you don’t want, and too short to waste time bickering.

Ferdinand was published in 1936 just before the Spanish Civil War.  Franco believed it sent a pacifist message.  Spain banned the book until after Franco’s death.  Not to be outdone, Hitler saw Ferdinand as subversive and ordered the book burned.  The Roosevelts and Gandhi were fans.

While bullfighting has been most associated with Spain, a wall painting depicting a bull fight dating from 2000 B.C.E. was unearthed in Knossos in Crete.  Bull fights were also popular in ancient Rome.  The modern spectacle of matadors, assisted by picadors and banderilleros, using capes and dressed in costume developed in Spain.  Bulls do not see red.  They’re color-blind.  It’s the movement of the cape that provokes them.  The reason the cape is red is to disguise the blood.

The image of Ferdinand resting under his cork tree recalls the Biblical promise that every man shall sit under his vine and fig tree with no one to make them afraid. Ferdinand at least has little risk of disturbance under his cork tree.  The trees are harvested only once every nine years.  Their barks are stripped–by harvesters who have trained for two years– and used most commonly for bottle stoppers but also in flooring, shoes, musical instruments (sealing the seams of woodwinds) and in the core of baseballs. The average tree yields 100 pounds of cork. Spain is the largest producer of cork.  Ferdinand wisely chose a cork tree instead of another tree ubiquitous in Spain–the olive tree.  Being pounded by falling fruit would not have been very restful.

Ferdinand may be a non-conformist, but he’s no bull in a china shop.  He’s a bull who’s taken his life by the horns.

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