By Samantha Verini, Editorial Intern for Worlds of Words
You would be hard-pressed to find a home in America without a copy of The Story of Ferdinand, but you might still be surprised by the full story of our beloved bull. It turns out that Ferdinand survived more than just the bullring; from his creation in 1936, Munro Leaf and Robert Lawson’s most cherished character appeared as a controversial symbol during the Spanish Civil War and World War II before appearing across the media as an icon for peace.
Though most modern audiences fail to see danger in The Story of Ferdinand, it didn’t always have wide public admiration. We see the book as a positive lesson in tolerance and a celebration of individual identity. However, once upon a time (and maybe still), those who didn’t conform or help advance a nationalist agenda were considered dangerous.
Just months after Ferdinand was published, as violence escalated into Spain’s Civil War, those who rose to power banned the book as pacifist propaganda. They weren’t alone in their fear of Ferdinand’s message: during World War II, Hitler labeled Ferdinand as “degenerate democratic propaganda.” According to the International Youth Library (IYL), Ferdinand didn’t make it onto Hitler’s black list of books to burn, but other sources claim otherwise.
Despite all odds, Ferdinand’s legacy of pacifism endured. In 1946, Jella Lepman (founder of the IYL) distributed thousands of copies of Ferdinand to the warn-torn children of Germany. Today, the book has been translated into more than sixty languages and has sold millions of copies worldwide. Take that, fascism!
After it became a bestseller in the United States in 1938, Disney created an animated short of the story, which went on to win the Academy Award for Best Short Subject (Cartoons). Almost 80 years later, Ferdinand returns to the screen this December as a full-length movie by 20th Century Fox!
Hello, Dear Enemy!, an exhibit from the IYL on display at Worlds of Words in the University of Arizona College of Education, features The Story of Ferdinand as a book promoting utopias of peace. The exhibit includes posters and picture books published in multiple world languages from across the globe. These books highlight international perspectives about conflict, prejudice, escalation of violence, war and humanity.
The Hello, Dear Enemy! exhibit at Worlds of Words provides the perfect setting to learn more about Ferdinand and books like it: stories that remind us of how powerful each of us can be in the face of opposition and darkness. Worlds of Words is the first stop for this traveling exhibit, so be sure to stop by before it ships out! More information about Worlds of Words and the exhibit can be found at wowlit.org.
For almost a century, Ferdinand remains a powerful global icon for tolerance and pacifism. His story is one of the most celebrated and beloved in history, and he will continue as long as there are flowers to smell and happiness to share.
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