I honestly can't remember a time I didn't have a book in my hands. One of my favorite photographs is of me sitting under a hair dryer (remember those?) with a stack of books in my lap. I can still remember the buzz of the hot air and the slight hint of ozone.
One of my absolute favorite stories was THE STORY OF FERDINAND by Munro Leaf. I still have my original childhood copy, along with a second and third copy as back up. They're stored in my memory chest along with a baby quilt and my favorite stuffed lamb. That beautiful shiny cover, the intricate pen illustrations and the story of the bull who just didn't want to fight and instead spent his days smelling the flowers. I even included a mention of the story in my upcoming Christmas novella for Heartwarming (hoping it makes it through edits!).
This is the book I always give as new baby presents. If you know me, if you're having a baby (or know someone having a baby), that baby will receive a copy of this book. I've given out dozens of copies and recently gifted one to one of my best friend's grandson. He's now old enough that they're reading to him but I was shocked to hear that the little boy's father made mention of the fact that Ferdinand dies at the end. What?! Are you serious? First of all, no, he doesn't (gasp! the horror!) and secondly, why on earth would I give a child a book about a bull who is killed because he won't fight in the bull fights? So I tossed off the comment and forgot about it.
This past week on Facebook, a fellow writer friend mentioned how her son was obsessed with Ferdinand (yay!), but that her husband made the comment, "Uh, oh, I don't think this ends well for the bull." Whaaaat? Another person actually thinks my beloved Ferdinand dies at the end? That he's buried under that tree and that the falling petals of the flower on the very last page alludes to his death? Devastation! My heart hurts! Depression! And so the debate began, with me gradually becoming more concerned that my beloved bull was in serious jeopardy. So I pulled out my copy, tattered as it is, and re read the story. And...
He's not dead. He's not. I refuse to accept it. But I can also see where it's open to interpretation (and does it mean something that both individuals who made the claim are male?). The book is a commentary on passivity, on not going with what's expected and breaking free of societal expectations and living your life the best way for you. The book was banned in Europe for a time because of it's "subversive" ideas (Hitler wasn't a fan, go figure). But this book was one of Ghandi's favorite stories of all times. Am I the only one who has a hard time believing Ghandi would never love a book (and encourage others to read it) where the bull dies (despite Ghandi's own tragic end) because he chooses peace over war?
Needless to say, this idea has shaken me to the core of my childhood. The number of times I read this story--even recently--before this "death" idea took form, I never once thought Ferdinand was dead at the end. Is it a sign of the times? Of this upcoming generation who see this book in an entirely new way? Or are we reading too much into a child's book that was really just about a bull who liked to smell the flowers. I'm going with the flowers.
And I shall continue to believe that my beloved Ferdinand is just fine, sitting under his tree, and loving his life.
So this begs the question: what are some of your favorite childhood stories? Have you read them lately? Do you see something different in them now that you don't remember? Please share! I'd love to know.