‘Ferdinand’ The Peaceful Bull Gets His First Full-Length Film

In the late 1930s, The Story of Ferdinand briefly out sold Gone With the Wind. Penguin Young Readers

Millions of people have read Munro Leaf’s The Story of Ferdinand since it was first published in 1936. Two years later, Disney turned it into it an Oscar-winning short film. Now, the peaceful bull who prefers sniffing flowers to bullfighting is getting an update from 20th Century Fox. And that bull has been on quite a journey to get here.

John Cena, the actor who voices Ferdinand in the new movie, recently read the original story to hundreds of DC public school kids at the Library of Congress. On a table next to him were two early editions of the book from the library’s collection. One was from 1938, the other from 1936.

“We’re going to look at the 1936 edition but not touch it,” Cena told the students. “It’s very delicate and very important, and the people from the Library of Congress were very thorough in saying like, ‘Hey, don’t touch the first book.'”

Precious Ferdinand, even when he grows to be bigger than all the other bulls, still doesn’t want to fight. He just wants to sit under the cork tree and smell flowers. But when he sits on a bumblebee, he goes berserk, puffing and kicking. The matadors watching are ecstatic.

The Story of Ferdinand is one of Time magazine’s “100 Best Children’s Books of All Time.” At one point in the late 1930s, it was outselling Gone With The Wind, which is pretty astonishing for something that was written in less than an hour.

NPR interviewed Munro Leaf’s widow, Margaret, in 1986, ten years after her husband’s death. “The depression was nearly over,” she recalled. “We were very poor.” One Sunday afternoon, she was reading a manuscript for a publisher to make some extra money.

“I was going to get $25 for reading it, so it was very important, and he kept bothering me, trying to interrupt me. So I finally said to him, ‘Get lost, go and amuse yourself. Do something.’ About 35 to 40 minutes later, he said ‘Listen to this,’ and he read me Ferdinand. And there it was in pencil on six sheets of yellow legal pad.”

Leaf gave the story to his friend, illustrator Robert Lawson, who brought it to life with detailed, whimsical, pen and ink drawings. The book took off.

There was the Disney short, Ferdinand merchandise, a balloon at the annual Macy’s Thanksgiving parade, songs and author interviews.

In 1948, Leaf talked to the Chicago radio show, The Hobby Horse Presents. Children on the show asked him what books he read when he was ten and a half.

“Oh gee, I read everything I could get my hands on really,” he said. “Couple of them I know that I read about that time that stand out as vividly today, and that’s Treasure Island was one, and The Wizard Of Oz to me was one of the nicest books I ever found.”

In the late 1930s, The Story of Ferdinand briefly outsoldGone With The Wind.
Penguin Young Readers

The book’s popularity coincided with the Spanish Civil War. In 1937, Leaf told an audience he received letters complaining that “Ferdinand was red propaganda,” others that “it was fascist propaganda.” A woman’s club said it was “unworthy satire of the peace movement.” It was banned in Spain; Hitler burned it.

But Margaret Leaf told NPR that Munro wasn’t trying to be political. “He wasn’t a pacifist, but he was a peaceful man,” she said.

Director Carlos Saldanha is the latest to interpret Ferdinand, in the new feature film adaptation. “I think Ferdinand is this misinterpreted, misjudged character,” he says.

Munro Leaf’s story is only about 800 words, so with the Leaf family’s permission, Saldanha did some fleshing out. The director created new characters, like a goat who lives in Ferdinand’s stall, and he gave voices to the other bulls in Munro Leaf’s story. When they’re young, they make fun of Ferdinand’s refusal to butt heads. And then Ferdinand outgrows them.

“He is trying to show them a different side of life, a different understanding of life,” Saldanha says. “And for him, you don’t really need to fight to be a fighter.”

For the voice of Ferdinand, Saldanha picked someone who fights for a living, a 6’1, 251 pound wrestler with the WWE — John Cena.

“He almost represents, visually, Ferdinand,” Saldanha tells NPR. “Like he’s so big and massive and people interpret him as this massive guy that picks fights and all this stuff but actually he’s not at all. And he’s super gentle.”

Cena confirmed that he’s misjudged for his size. He says it’s a universal feeling. “There isn’t a human walking the earth that [can] say ‘Everybody gets me all the time.’ That’s why I think, another reason the book is timeless. We’re all misunderstood.”

Munro Leaf died in 1976. He wrote other books, but none that had the global success of Ferdinand. His son, Andy Leaf, says his father was amused by all of the different interpretations. “He was very smart that way. He just let people interpret it as they wished.”

In the end, Ferdinand stays true to himself, sitting under his favorite cork tree, smelling the flowers quietly. Ferdinand, the movie version, comes out later this week, but the book will likely be around forever.

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Paperback Thrills: 16 Best Thrillers of the Last 100 Years

by Keith Rice, appearing first on Signature Reads

Thrillers

The perfect thriller is a difficult beast – a complex mix of pacing, plotting, and tension all doing a high-wire act to keep readers on the edge of their seats and glued to the page. The thriller is also one of the literary world’s broader genres ranging from intricacies of espionage to the supernatural, tension-filled courtrooms to haunted houses, howcatchems and whodunits to grisly murders. The one thing all of these tales have in common? An unparalleled ability to draw readers in for that can’t-put-it-down reading experience. Looking back over the last 100 or so years, we’ve pulled together our list of sixteen of the most essential thrillers. Find a comfy spot and settle in; once you start one of these great reads, odds are you won’t be able to step away until you hit that final page.

Click for the complete list of thrillers.

Fantastic Voyages – “You can’t depend on your eyes when your imagination is out of focus.” (Part 3 of 3)

So far we’ve traveled the blue expanse of the sea and the great nothingness of space. What else could there be?

How about time travel?

Yankee

June 19 was not turning out to be a good day for Hank Morgan. He was an intelligent, successful engineer with thousands of people working for him, but, it turns out, not all of them were happy with him. In fact, one went so far as to bash him in the head with a crowbar, and, as if that weren’t enough, Hank woke up in middle-ages England of all places. This was beyond a little perplexing since Hank had been in 19th century Connecticut when he was last conscious.

Hank, who would soon become known as “The Boss,” didn’t have much time to consider this odd change in scenery though, as he was accosted by a lance-wielding knight on horseback soon after his arrival. Things only got more complicated from there.

Without giving too much away; Hank, using his knowledge of engineering and science, quickly rose to a position of power posing as a great magician and spent the next three or four years trying to turn medieval England into an industrialized (and Americanized) utopia. Also, King Arthur and Merlin were involved. All did not go well.

Still, A for effort, Hank.

Want to learn more? Check out A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court by Mark Twain.

Want your shot at building your own utopia? That’s a bit more difficult (we would like to take this opportunity to advise against the “angry employee with crowbar” path to changing history) but it is possible and there is no time like the present. It’s summer, the sun is shining, people are out and about and there are things to do everywhere, so let’s get to it. First things first, find a problem, any problem – small, big, medium-sized, whatever – and fix it, or at least make it better. Then repeat. It’s going to take a while, but then Rome (or an industrialized Camelot with a modern standard of living) wasn’t built in a day.

Fantastic Voyages – It’s All a Matter of Perspective (Part 1 of 3)

Summer is a time of wonder, of adventure, of going to see what there is to see. So what are we all sitting around for? Here are some literary examples of fantastic summer travels to help inspire you to get out there and experience June.

Note: Pay no attention to the fact that all of the examples are of adventures that were unintended/completely involuntary. You should still go outside. Just, maybe start small…

I know! You could go to the library! Safe, close by and air-conditioned but still full of things to see and to learn. It’s perfect!

In the meantime, here is your first fantastic voyage.

By the summer of 1703, Lemuel Gulliver already knew that the world was a much larger (or smaller, as the case may be) and stranger place than most people ever imagined. It had been about a year since he had finally returned home after his first lengthy sea journey; a journey that had resulted in him being shipwrecked and stranded in the nation of Lilliput, being a nation populated entirely by people who were less than 6 inches tall. His experiences there (including his eventual fall from imperial favor and subsequent arrest and escape) are probably the best known and most retold of his adventures but they were far from his only. In fact, another one was to begin soon for, having been at home for 12 whole months, he was starting to get antsy.

Gulliver

Gulliver Exhibited to the Brobdingnag Farmer (painting by Richard Redgrave)

On June 17, 1703, Mr. Gulliver and his most recent crewmates put ashore on an uncharted coastline to explore and forage. This ended pretty abruptly when 70 foot tall giants chased the entire shore party back to their row boats, all of them except Gulliver that is. After spending time as a giant among the Lilliputians poor Gulliver now found the situation completely reversed. The intrepid ship’s surgeon remained stranded on the island of giants (he would find out soon enough that the place was called Brobdingnag) until he “escaped” when a giant eagle snatched him (and the room/cage he was in – he had become the human equivalent of a purse dog for the Brobdingnagian queen) and flew him out to sea.

He did not go straight home. There were many more highly improbable islands and people to meet. He, in fact, did not make it home once and for all for another 12 years. Take that Odysseus.

Intrigued? You can check out the rest of the story, and the bits I glossed over, in Gulliver’s Travels by Jonathan Swift. You know where you can pick it up.

So, even if it doesn’t exactly make you want to take up sailing anytime soon, I hope that Gulliver inspires you to at least make your way to the library. Maybe take the scenic route on the way here – you never know what you might find.

And you thought your business trip was bad…

Ah, Transylvania in the springtime. According to the dates of his journal entry, Jonathan Harker arrived, after a brief layover in a slightly unsettling little village filled with slightly unsettling little villagers, at a certain Castle Dracula on the evening of May 5th, sometime in the late 1890s.Castle Dracula

It did not go well.

Intrigued? You can learn more about his trip and how it ended at the library. There is also a ton of stuff dealing with Count Dracula’s spiritual descendants – even the sparkly ones.

Don’t know or care about what I’m talking about? Then at least your day can seem a little brighter and your steps a little lighter with the certain knowledge that it will go better than Jon’s… Unless you too are currently working your way ever closer to the creepy abode of an ancient, nearly indestructible creature of the night; in which case you are on your own. We can help with a lot of stuff but that’s a bit outside of the library’s wheelhouse.

 

Author Birthdays – Busy week

William Sydney Porter (aka O. Henry) (b. September 11, 1862, Greensboro, NC; d. June 5, 1910, New York, NY)

The littlest Earp brother?“Love and business and family and religion and art and patriotism are nothing but shadows of words when a man’s starving!” Find more quotes here.

What you should read: The Gifts of the Magi and his other short fiction

For more information on O. Henry, click here.

 

David Herbert Richards Lawrence (aka D.H. Lawrence) (b. September 11, 1885, Eastwood, UK; d. March 2, 1930, Vence, France)

Before the beard got out of control“Be still when you have nothing to say; when genuine passion moves you, say what you’ve got to say, and say it hot.” You can find more quotes here.

What you should read: Lady Chatterly’s Lover and Sons and Lovers

For more information on D.H. Lawrence, click here.

 

Sherwood Anderson (b. September 13, 1876, Camden, OH; d. March 8, 1941, Colón, Panama)

Off center picture... does it bother you too?“If people did not want their stories told, it would be better for them to keep away from me.” Find more quotes here.

What you should read: Winesburg, Ohio

For more information on Sherwood Anderson, click here.

 

Roald Dahl (b. September 13, 1916, Cardiff, United Kingdom; d. November 23, 1990, Oxford, United Kingdom)

Why did I picture him with a beard?“I find that the only way to make my characters really interesting to children is to exaggerate all their good or bad qualities, and so if a person is nasty or bad or cruel, you make them very nasty, very bad, very cruel. If they are ugly, you make them extremely ugly. That, I think, is fun and makes an impact.” Read more quotes here.

What you should read: Matilda, James and the Giant Peach, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory and The BFG

For more on Roald Dahl, his life and his work, click here.

 

John Knowles (b. September 16, 1926, Fairmont, WV; d. November 29, 2001, Fort Lauderdale, FL)

Megamind?“There are simply more young people than there ever were. You get this feeling of strength. Also, large numbers can be a drawback, making it difficult to lose one’s anonymity.” Find more quotes here.

What you should read: A Separate Peace

For more information on John Knowles, click here.

 

Robert B. Parker (b. September 17, 1932, Springfield, MA; d. January 18, 2010, Cambridge, MA)

Crime author“College had little effect on me. I’d have been the same writer if I’d gone to MIT, except I’d have flunked out sooner.” You can find more quotes here.

What you should read: Night Passage, The Godwulf Manuscript, Family Honor and Appaloosa

For more information on Robert B. Parker and his books, click here.

 

Ken Kesey (b. September 17, 1935, La Junta, CO; d. November 10, 2001, Eugene, OR)

Doesn't normally look this normal“You don’t lead by pointing and telling people some place to go. You lead by going to that place and making a case.” Find more quotes here.

What you should read: One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest

For more information on Ken Kesey, click here.

Author Birthdays – September, round 2

Richard Wright (b. September 4, 1908, Roxie, MS; d. November 28, 1960, Paris, France)

He doesn't look like a happy man. Fair enough.“Men can starve from a lack of self-realization as much as they can from a lack of bread.” Find more quotes here.

What you should read: Uncle Tom’s Children and Native Son

For more information on Richard Wright, click here.

 

Robert M. Pirsig (b. September 6, 1928, Minneapolis, MN)

As advertised, zen and motorcycles“It is not good to talk about Zen, because Zen is nothingness… If you talk about it, you are always lying, and if you don’t talk about it, no one knows it is there.” You can find more quotes here.

What you should read: Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance

For more information on Robert Pirsig, his works and his philosophy, click here.

 

Leo Tolstoy (b. September 9, 1828, Yasnaya Polyana, Russia; d. November 20, 1910, Lev Tolstoy, Russia)

At once, exactly and nothing like what I expected“To say that a work of art is good, but incomprehensible to the majority of men, is the same as saying of some kind of food that it is very good but that most people can’t eat it.” Find more quotes here.

What you should read: War and Peace and Anna Karenina

For more information on Tolstoy, click here.

 

 

James Hilton (b. September 9, 1900, Leigh, UK; d. December 20, 1954, Long Beach, CA)

Probably not a candid shot of him looking dapper and reading his own book, but who knows“Surely there comes a time when counting the cost and paying the price aren’t things to think about any more. All that matters is value – the ultimate value of what one does.” Read more quotes here.

What you should read: Lost Horizon and Goodbye, Mr. Chips

For more on Mr. Hilton, click here.