For anyone who’d rather sit under a cork tree than do what’s expected of us


Just in case there isn’t anyone who doesn’t know The Story of Ferdinand: Ferdinand was born to a long line of Famous Bulls who Fought Well in the Arena. The problem is that Ferdinand doesn’t WANT to fight in the bullring, he wants to sit under the cork trees surrounded by flowers and daydream; unfortunately (for Ferdinand), the talent scouts come to his particular meadow in his particular farm at the exact moment when Ferdinand and a bee try to occupy the same bit of shade. Ferdinand’s resulting leapings and snortings make him seem the Bravest Fightingest Bull around, and he’s the one taken away to Madrid…don’t worry. The book has a happy ending.

Our protagonist bull reverts to type once he arrives in the ring: peaceable daydreamy creature that he is, he has no idea why all those men are waving sharp objects at him and, enthralled with all the pretty ladies with their deliciously aromatic flowers…he sits down in the middle of the ring the better to sniff all the surroundings. Leaving the bullfighter in tears and the picadors tearing their mustachios out in frustration, Ferdinand is carted back to his farm and into his pasture, where presumably he is still to this day.

A book very much for the daydreamers among us, who can all sympathize with Ferdinand’s desire only to sit and sniff the flowers! How else would such a flower-sniffer react when presented with a bullfighting arena’s worth of senoritas adorned with flowers but to sit down in the middle of the ring and gaze about, enraptured? Doesn’t make for great drama in the ring, unless you’re a Ferdinand at heart. As I am. Long live Ferdinand!

Frankly, I’m not sure there IS another book quite like The Story of Ferdinand, but if anyone knows of any, please let me know! I’d love to read them. That said, both Munro Leaf and Robert Lawson wrote several books of their own and collaborated on Wee Gillis; of the two as authors, I think Lawson’s books have survived a bit better than Leaf’s though both are worth finding. Leaf’s books are for younger kids, on manners and behavior, while Lawson’s are chapter books–he did primarily books about animals. Rabbit Hill is sweet, though for palatable history lessons about the Revolutionary War, I can recommend Mr. Revere and I and Ben and Me.

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2 thoughts on “For anyone who’d rather sit under a cork tree than do what’s expected of us

  1. Ferdinand was one of my favorite books once I got old enough to read it for myself, and I came back to it at various times when I was “too old” for it. (I still read it every once in a while, ’cause it makes me happy.) I enjoyed Ferdinand even more when I got old enough to realize that corks don’t grow like clusters of fruit on a cork tree — they’re made from the bark. Non-conformism, appreciation of beauty, peace, and sly humor. What more could I want in a book?

    The Summerfolk, by Doris Burn, isn’t like The Story of Ferdinand (nothing is). It’s about a boy learning to accept people who are different than he is, but it’s very light-hearted. The illustrations of the boats, and Willie’s attempts to find something to criticize about each one when he is clearly fascinated, are very funny. My copy is about 40 years old, though, so it may not be in print anymore.

    Hope For The Flowers is about a caterpillar named Stripe. It’s really a story about ambition and discovering what really makes Stripe’s life meaningful. You can read it as a Christian allegory if you want, but I was well into my teens before I figured that out. Rather like the Narnia books, it’s subtle and you can enjoy the story completely separately from any religious aspect. It’s not humorous, but it’s charming, and the illustrations are charming as well. Like The Summerfolk, though, it may not be in print — it came out in the seventies and I don’t know if it survived the end of the flower children.

  2. (snorts of laughter) “The summerfolk”? If it’s the book I remember, yes it’s about 40 years old or a bit more–it wasn’t new when I read it; is it the one where the local boy is befriended by the somewhat eccentric seasonal incomers (not sure how else to describe them) and begrudgingly by the end of the book is having fun spending time with them, though he’s still trying to be grumpy about it? (the line drawings of the various boats rings a bell with me)

    Librarians can sometimes find books that aren’t in print, though I make no promises on other librarians’ behalf sight unseen…only that it may be worth asking nicely, Just knowing that there ARE possibilities for those of us who love “Ferdinand” is encouraging to me; maybe some book lover out there will be inspired to find the books for themselves.

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