A beloved character created by one of the members of the UMD Alumni Hall of Fame wins the honor of the number 60–Ferdinand the Bull. Munro Leaf, Class of 1927, created the charming tale of a bull who didn’t like to fight in 1935, and since its publication the following year, The Story of Ferdinand, has been translated into over 60 languages.
Ferdinand was not like the other bulls with whom he lived in Spain. While they enjoyed running and frolicking in the fields, Ferdinand just liked to sit and smell the flowers. All the young bulls grew big and strong, including Ferdinand, and while his friends longed to be picked to go to the bull fights in Madrid, he wished to remain under his cork tree in peace. One day, five men came to pick the bulls to take to the arena, and all the bulls except Ferdinand tried to show how fierce they were, until suddenly he sat on a bee and was stung and began snorting and running around and pawing the ground. The men decided Ferdinand was the strongest and fiercest bull of all, and they loaded him into a cart to take him to the bullfights in Madrid. All the banderilleros, picadors, and even the matador were afraid of him, but when Ferdinand entered the arena and smelled the flowers in the hair of the ladies in the audience, he merely sat down in the center of the stadium and smelled and smelled the beautiful flowers. Everyone was very mad at him, but Ferdinand wouldn’t budge, so they loaded him back into the cart and took him home to his field where he returned happily to sit under his cork tree and taken in the lovely aroma of his beloved flowers.
The University of Maryland Libraries are fortunate to have an inscribed copy of The Story of Ferdinand in the Marylandia collection.
Ferdinand was a controversial book when it was published, as some critics believed that it was a thinly veiled negative commentary on international aggression. Leaf denied this, stating in a 1939 Washington Times Herald article that the book was only ever intended for children, adding: “I don’t even think he was a pacifist. He just showed plain horse sense–or maybe I should say ‘bull-sense’…He didn’t want to fight because he didn’t see any good reason for it.” Hitler had the book burned in Germany,but it was a favorite of Mahatma Gandhi’s and Eleanor Roosevelt’s.
Munro Leaf, Ferdinand’s creator, now a member of Maryland’s Alumni Hall of Fame, graduated with a B.A. in 1927. Leaf wasn’t an author while at Maryland–he played lacrosse, was a captain in the R.O.T.C., and was senior class treasurer. He went on to write many other children’s books, and his career earned him a distinguished service award from Maryland’s Board of Regents in 1960. He passed away in 1976.
Today you can read Leaf’s little work around the world in such languages as Spanish, Polish, Sudanese, German, Chinese, Latin, and even American Sign Language.
In addition, Ferdinand made his way onto the big screen, when Walt Disney adapted the popular children’s book into the seven-minute animated film Ferdinand the Bull, which won an Academy Award in the Best Short Subject (Cartoon) category in 1938.
This is a post in our new series on Terrapin Tales called UMD123! Similar to our “ABC’s of UMD” series last semester, posts in this series will take a look at the university’s history “by the numbers.” New posts will come out twice a month, on Wednesdays, throughout the semester; search “UMD123” or check out Twitter #UMD123 to see the rest. If you want to learn more about campus history, you can also visit our encyclopedia University of Maryland A to Z: MAC to Millennium for more UMD facts.