For nearly 80 years, Ferdinand has delighted the world.

Well, nearly everyone.

The story — about a gentle Spanish bull who prefers flowers to bullfighting — was banned in Spain and burned in Nazi Germany, because of its “pacifist” overtones.

But it’s been translated into over 60 languages (and never gone out of print). A Disney cartoon adaptation won a 1938 Academy Award. The other day, a 3D computer-animated version was released, to pretty good reviews.

Many “06880” readers know the local connection: The 1936 book was illustrated by Robert Lawson. He’s the only person to win both a Caldecott Medal (for most distinguished children’s picture book) and Newbery Award (for important contribution to children’s literature).

Lawson was a longtime Westporter. He named his house Rabbit Hill — then wrote a 1944 Newbery-winning book of the same name, based on all the animals there (the book also includes a reference to Deadman’s Brook).

The home — which still stands — is adjacent to the United Methodist Church, on Weston Road. (Rabbit Hill Road is off nearby Sipperley’s Hill Road.)

One of Robert Lawson’s many “Rabbit Hill” illustrations.

Earlier — from around 1923 to ’33 — Lawson and his wife Marie lived in the house that is now the Tavern on Main restaurant. They moved to Taylor Place, before buying their property on Weston Road.

Turns out, there are even more local Ferdinand connections. While Lawson illustrated “The Story of Ferdinand,” it was written by Munro Leaf. He’s the grandfather of Sam Leaf, who now lives (of course!) in Westport.

Sam’s son Jacob — Munro’s great-grandson — is well-known around here too. Before graduating from Staples High School last June, he starred in many Players productions. (He was, for example, Tevye in “Fiddler on the Roof.”)

Too bad that the latest “Ferdinand” movie is animated. What a hoot it would have been to have found a big role in it for Jacob Leaf.

That’s no bull.

(Hat tips: Maxine Bleiweis and Elizabeth Devoll)


4 responses to “Ferdinand!

  1. In 1938 Leaf & Lawson again collaborated on “Wee Gillis” which is still my favourite children’s book.

  2. Lovely Dan. I was just looking in the newspaper and this movie, “Ferdinand” caught my attention. Thank you for this post.
    Happy Holidays!🐿

  3. Thank you, Dan for this lovely story to wake up to on Christmas Eve morning. Both “Rabbit Hill” and “Ferdinand” were among my most favorite stories when I was a child and inspired my urgency to learn to read myself, which I actually did, before I ever went to school. Once I learned the alphabet, I guess that by making the connection between the letters on the page and the words my mother was reading out loud I learned to read by myself. Hurray!

    My mother was a friend of Robert Lawson and I visited the house on Rabbit Hill Road several times with her as a child. I remember him as a friend to children. I always looked for “bunnies” there but never actually saw one hopping around on the lawn. Very disappointed!

    I undoubtedly had “Mr. Lawson’s” signature and a little message in each book but, most unfortunately, when I went off to college my mother purged my room of my “childish” things, including books (and my blue Bolton School field hockey uniform – tunic and bloomers! – hockey stick!) and almost everything else – out with the trash. When I first returned home from college that Christmas the loss was a shock which I have never forgotten.

  4. Mary Cookman Schmerker SHS '58

    I also have very fond memories of “Ferdinand”. I still have a rubber Ferdinand put out by Disney. If my memory serves me there was a song that went with the first movie that my grandmother used to play on the piano for me.

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