Monthly Archives: July 2014

The Story of Ferdinand

The Story of Ferdinand
Munro Leaf (author), Robert Lawson (illustrator)
Viking, 1936

You knoThe_Story_of_Ferdinandw a book did something right if it was burned by the Nazis and banned in Franco’s Spain. Who would have thought that this sweet classic book about the Bull who liked flowers more than fighting could raise such a fuss?  And yet, published in 1936, just around the outbreak of the
Spanish Civil War, it became an instant success and just as instantly controversial. Ferdinand became know as the “peaceful bull” and the book was understood by many to be a criticism of the anti-Republic coup that would soon break out in Spain.

Though this children’s book’s relationship to its political context is fascinating, you don’t need to know anything about the Spanish Civil War to see the charm and beauty of this book. Through a twist of circumstances, the gentle, flower-loving Ferdinand is mistaken for an angry and ready to fight bull.  He is taken by cart to the city to be entered in the ring of a bull fight. Ferdinand is far more interested in the flowers on the ladies hat than in the red cape of the matador. This book speaks to themes of peace, non-conformity, the breadth of gender expression and potentially the unfair treatment of animals.

The cruelty of bull fighting is treated very lightly in the book, which helps it to be not-so-traumatizing for younger children. However, it left me feeling as if something more needs to be said. One approach is to offer a simple, age-appropriate statement about bullfighting when introducing the book. For example, I might say: “I am no fan of bull fighting.  I think it’s mean to the bulls.  I am a fan of The Story of Ferdinand the Bull, though.  It’s been a classic for over 75 years now.  I hope you like it too.”  Also, the story could be further softened if you are telling it rather than reading it.  A more direct point could then be made through the sermon or by other means with adults.

The classic narrative structure and language already suited to the spoken word make it a great story for telling – no adaptation required.  If you do share the picture book, the black ink line drawings are charming, though perhaps hard to see unless fairly close up.

Themes: Peace, Non-aggression, Non-conformity, Gender Identity, Difference,

Motifs: Spain, Bulls, Fighting, Flowers, Bees, Red

Reviewer: Kristin Maier, author
A Good Telling: Bringing Worship to Life with Story

Martina the Beautiful Cockroach: A Cuban Folktale

Martina the Beautiful Cockroach: A Cuban Folktale
Carmen Agra Deedy (author), Michael Austin (illustrator)
Peachtree, 2007

Product Details Martina Josefina Catalina Cucaracha has reached the age when  a cockroach looks for a spouse. Martina’s grandmother gives her some very surprising advice for meeting her suitors – spill coffee on their shoes. Young and old  alike will be terribly curious about happens when she follows her grandmothers advice.

While some might look at you askance for bringing cucarachas into a sanctuary, even cute ones in story form, this Cuban folktale holds some powerful truths worthy of entering a worship space. The story affirms that the most important thing in a relationship is being understanding and kind even if someone spills coffee on our shoes.

Every religious tradition worth its salt calls us to treat other human beings with compassion and kindness – and this story encourages our children (perhaps especially our girls) to expect kind treatment even when they might spill a little coffee. When a recent study tells us that 1 in 10 adolescents report experiencing violence in a dating relationship, it’s time to make sure this lesson is taught in our worship communities, too.

Fortunately, the lesson is wrapped in a folk tale with a strong narrative structure that lends itself particularly well to telling. There is a nice pattern of repetition that will make learning the tale easier, and distinct characters that the teller can have fun with. If the story is being read rather than told, the illustrations are bright and lively. They tend to be a little over-caricaturized, and my preference is for telling rather than reading, but it is a good picture book to share as well.

Themes: Kindness, Forgiveness, Respect, Mistakes, Difference, Dating, Anti-Violence,

Motifs: Animals, Cockroaches, Rooster, Pig, Mouse, Grandmother, Coffee, Spill, Spanish, Cuba

Reviewer: Kristin Maier, author
A Good Telling: Bringing Worship to Life with Story

Muncha! Muncha! Muncha!

Muncha! Muncha! Muncha!
Candace Fleming (author), G. Brian Karas (illustrator)
Atheneum, 2002


What gardener can’t identify with poor Mr. McGreely? He only wants the bunnies to stop eating the vegetables he worked so hard to grow. Children, though, will surely identify with these wily bunnies who seem to get through any defense Mr. McGreely puts up. And defend he does! G. Brian Karas’ delightful illustrations show the fenced, walled, barb-wired contraption that Mr. McGreely constructs in his increasingly obsessive efforts to keep the bunnies at bay.

In the end, a heartwarming message about sharing with all creatures prevails. Fleming’s language is rhythmic and engaging. The illustrations are fun and accessible. This story works best when shared as a picture book as key plot elements are revealed through the illustrations.

Themes: Generosity, Sharing, Greed, Anger, Defense, Hoarding, Futility

Motifs: Garden, Rabbit, Bunny, Fence, Wall, Vegetables, Carrots

Reviewer: Kristin Maier, author
A Good Telling: Bringing Worship to Life with Story

reference: muncha muncha muncha

The Contest Between the Sun and the Wind

The Contest Between the Sun and the Wind: An Aesop’s Fable
Retold by Heather Forest and illustrated by Susan Gaber
Little, 2008


This delightful adaptation of Aesop’s Fable is dedicated to “Peace Makers everywhere,” and with good reason. When the Sun and the Wind get into an argument over who is most powerful, it is gentleness that rules the day.

The story follows the classic fable closely. The Sun and Wind agree to a contest to see who can “make” the man take off his coat. The Wind sends a mighty gale to force the man’s coat off, but the man just pulls it tighter against the cold.  The Sun exudes a gentle warmth instead, and slowly but surely the man complies and unbuttons and then removes his coat.

The adaptation flows smoothly with a lyrical tone that is well-suited to a young, contemporary ear. The illustrations are engaging and dynamic. The retelling allows the story to come through without an overly pedantic tone and without superfluous additions that detract from a well-honed classic. This adaptation would work well for either telling or for sharing as a picture book.

Themes: Power, Force, Strength, Gentleness, Cooperation

Motifs: Sun, Wind, Weather, Coat

Reviewer: Kristin Maier
Author, A Good Telling: Bringing Worship to Life with Story