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Blessed are the peacemakers.
on September 26, 2001
This book is more than sixty years old. I remember hearing it as a small child in the early sixties, and even then it sounded strangely old-fashioned to me, as if it came from some sweet, gentle world that had not existed for a long time. But as a child I passionately loved that world, and this book that evoked its gentleness, and years later, when I found out I was pregnant, the first thing I bought for my son was not a blanket or a crib or a stuffed animal, but a copy of Ferdinand. It was the thing I loved most from my own childhood. Seventeen years later, I still think my priorities were right. And that seventeen year old has a six year old sister, so the book is still in use.
Ferdinand has been around so long, I assume everybody knows the story, but in case you don't, here goes: Ferdinand is a gentle little bull in Spain. The other little bulls love to fight and dream of being chosen for the bullfights in Madrid. But by mistake, Ferdinand is sent to fight. The only problem is, he will not fight.. They lead him into the bullring, but he just sits there, smelling the flowers in the women's hair, and in the end there is nothing the matadors can do but take him home.
I suppose people have been reading this book to children for more than sixty years in part because of its pacifist message. In essence, Ferdinand is the one who would not come when they gave a war. But for me that is just a small part of its appeal. Robert Lawson's absolutely perfect illustrations show a world that is often mean and ugly (the stupid expressions on the faces of the men who come to choose the bulls are classics), or else petty and foolish (check out the fussy clothes and snooty expressions of the matadors), but Ferdinand, always true to himself, is oblivious to this world, and just goes on living his own life in his own way. In the end that quality is a force that nothing can alter.
Reading Ferdinand always leaves me believing that goodness is a powerful, unshakeable force. That is a message I find very comforting lately.