Below is an annotated list of children's literature for the elementary classroom. The books are organized by the Six Elements of Social Justice Curriculum Design (Picower, 2007). It is based on work by pre-service teachers at Montclair State University. They have read and reviewed these books and provided insights into how they can be used in K-5 settings.

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

The Story of Ferdinand

Title: The story of Ferdinand
Written by: Munro Leaf
Illustrated by: Robert Lawson
Published by: Puffin Books
The Story of Ferdinand can be bought here!

Helpful ideas for how to use The Story of Ferdinand in class can be found here!
Social Justice Element I
Ferdinand is a bull who lives in Spain.  While the other bulls like to run, jump and butt their heads together Ferdinand did not. Ferdinand was much more content spending his days smelling the flowers and sitting quietly under his favorite cork tree.  Ferdinand's different behavior concerned some of the other bulls and cows he lived with, especially his mother. She was afraid that Ferdinand would get lonely sitting my himself all of the time.  His mother would ask him, "Why don't you run and play with the other little bulls?" But Ferdinand always refused, insisting he was much happier in the quiet with the flowers.  When Ferdinand grew up into a big strong bull, it was expected that he, like the other bulls his age, would go out and become a part of the bull fights in Madrid.  Of course, Ferdinand did not want anything to do with this.  When the men came to pick the toughest bulls to go to the fights, Ferdinand didn't care and went to sit by his favorite tree. Unfortunately, he didn't watch where he was sitting and plopped down onto a bee, which stung him and sent him running off amongst the other bulls, butting heads and snorting like the rest of them.  The men were so impressed by Ferdinand that they brought him to Madrid for the fights! When the day came for the big fight, all the excitement lead up to he moment when Ferdinand "the fierce" was announced.  Everyone in the crowd thought Ferdinand was going to give them a great fight, but when he made it to the middle of the ring Ferdinand just took a seat and smelt a nice flower that he saw.  It became very obvious that Ferdinand was not Ferdinand the fierce, and that he would not fight, so they had to take him home.  Ferdinand happily returned to his life of sitting under the cork tree in the quiet and smelling his flowers as he passed the day away.

Why Element 1?
The story of Ferdinand embodies the idea of promoting self-love and knowledge.  Ferdinand is a member of a community that has certain expectations placed on its members for how they are required to act.  These expectations are the same as some of the stereotypes we see all the time in society.  Sometimes these stereotypes are based on gender.  Boys, for example, are supposed to like things like sports, they're supposed to act wild, and they're supposed to like getting dirty when they play outside.  When a boy shows more interest in anything other than what are the stereotypes, or the unfairly predetermined societal norms, they are looked down upon or considered weird and different.  This is what happens in the story of Ferdinand. As a bull, Ferdinand is expected to be wild and enjoy playing rough. But Ferdinand doesn't like this kind of stuff and, to his credit, Ferdinand is very confident in what he does like.  Ferdinand really loves relaxing in the shade, smelling the flowers, and enjoying some peace and quiet.  A big help in developing this amount of self-love and confidence in his self is Ferdinand's understanding mother, who promotes his self discovery and, while she worries some times, understands that everyone is different and doesn't just fall into the expected stereotypes that society develops.  This story does a great job of promoting the idea of staying true to yourself by showing that once Ferdinand is taken (by mistake) to Madrid, he does not get caught up in all of the excitement of the big fights and try to live up to the expectations of the people. Instead, Ferdinand stays true to Ferdinand and happily lies down and smells the flowers in the ring. 

How would I use this story?
I think that this story shares a valuable lesson about breaking stereotypes, acknowledging our uniqueness as individuals, and promotes staying true to ourselves in the process.  For this reason, I think that Ferdinand should be presented early in the school year as a way to lead into a project which explores who the members of our class are as individuals. A good project could be a free write or an art project that celebrates their unique and special characteristics and traits.  This project can culminate in having the students present what they wrote or made and really bring those unique traits to light and help create an open and accepting classroom community.  

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