Munro Leaf (Wilnerd Monroe Leaf) was born on December 5, 1905. He wrote and illustrated numerous children’s books—some of them, like How to Behave and Why and Manners Can Be Fun, are still in print today. But Leaf is best known for writing The Story of Ferdinand (about a gentle bull who would rather smell flowers than fight in a bullring). Legend has it that Leaf wrote this story in less than an hour for his friend, the illustrator Robert Lawson (who would go on to write his own children’s stories and become the first person to be awarded both the Caldecott Medal for They Were Strong and Good in 1941 and the Newbery Medal for Rabbit Hill in 1945). Is it just me or does it seem like many classics have had similar speedy births? I guess when inspiration strikes, it strikes quickly.
Anyway, when The Story of Ferdinand was first published in 1936, it became a magnet for controversy (hard to believe now) because of its pacifist theme. The book was banned in Spain (this was around the time of the Spanish Civil War) and burned in Nazi Germany. But despite, or perhaps partly because of, the controversy, The Story of Ferdinand became an international sensation, having never gone out of print, inspiring an Academy Award-winning Disney animated short film, and being translated into more than 60 languages. The message that it’s okay to do your own thing and not follow the crowd is as relevant today as it was yesterday. I loved this story as a child, and reading it now, I find myself as enchanted as ever by Leaf’s tale and Lawson’s wonderful illustrations.
My other favorite Leaf book is less known, but just as captivating and wise in its theme. Noodle is about a little dog “who was very long from front to back, and very short from top to bottom.” One day, Noodle the dachshund digs up a wishbone and is granted one wish by a poodle-resembling dog fairy. He wishes he could be another size and shape, but isn’t sure what that should be. So he hurries off to the zoo to ask the animals there for their advice: “Pitter pitter patter. Patter pitter pitter. (That was the sort of noise his feet made when he walked in a hurry.)” Of course, each animal (a zebra, hippopotamus, ostrich, and giraffe) recommends its own size and shape, but Noodle is unconvinced. The little dachshund returns home realizing that he’s happy just the way he is. The story is charmingly written and the illustrations by Ludwig Bemelmans (creator of Madeline) are fabulous. I’m so glad this book, originally released in 1937, is back in print, and I hope it stays available for a very long time.
Are you a fan of The Story of Ferdinand or other children’s books by Munro Leaf? Which is your favorite?