The Story of Ferdinand (1936) is the best known work written by American author Munro Leaf and illustrated by Robert Lawson. The children’s book tells the story of a bull who would rather smell flowers than fight in bullfights. He sits in the middle of the bull ring failing to take heed of any of the provocations of the matador and others to fight.
The book was released nine months before the outbreak of the Spanish Civil War, but was still seen by many supporters of Francisco Franco as a pacifist book. It became a target of the right wing, being banned in many countries, and—perhaps because of that suppression—was promoted by many on the left. It was one of the few non-Communist books promoted in Soviet-occupied Poland.
Leaf is said to have written the story on a whim in an afternoon in 1935, largely to provide his friend, illustrator Robert Lawson (then relatively unknown) a forum in which to showcase his talents.
The landscape in which Lawson placed the fictional Ferdinand is more or less real. Lawson faithfully reproduced the view of the city of Ronda in Andalusia for his illustration of Ferdinand being brought to Madrid on a cart: we see the Puente Nuevo (“New Bridge”) spanning the El Tajo canyon. The Disney movie added some rather accurate views of Ronda and the Puente Romano (“Roman bridge”) and the Puente Viejo (“Old bridge”) at the beginning of the story, where Lawsons pictures were more free. Ronda is home to the oldest bullfighting ring in Spain that is still used; this might have been a reason for Lawson’s use of its surroundings as a background for the story.
The story was adapted by Walt Disney as a short animated film entitled Ferdinand the Bull in 1938, in a style similar to his Silly Symphonies series (and sometimes considered an unofficial part of that series). Ferdinand the Bull won the 1938 Academy Award for Best Short Subject (Cartoons).