This September sees the release of Muroe Leaf and Robert Lawson's The Story of Ferdinand from publishers Faber & Faber. A classic first published in 1936, it has never been out of print in its native US, but this is its first UK publication, to tie in with the feature film out later this year.
Readers may well be familiar with the story of this flower-loving bull who has no interest in fighting in the bull-ring. But did you know that this book also holds a particular place in the history of IBBY?
In 1946, Jella Lepman (IBBY's main founder and inspiration) set up the first International Youth Book Exhibition in Post-War Germany. The Exhibition featured children's books donated by publishers from all over the world as well as art produced by children from America, France, England, Sweden, Switzerland and of course Germany. The Exhibition was an instant hit in a country where children were as starved of food as they were of stories.
During the Berlin leg of the tour in December 1946, Lepman became overwhelemed with the pleas of young visitors who came 'begging for books' and struck on her newest idea: she decided to translate Ferdinand into German and get it printed on newsprint. Overnight, 30,000 copies were produced and, in the days following Christmas, distributed to eager young readers. In A Bridge of Children's Books (O'Brien Press for the Irish edition), Lepman wrote:
Ferdinand was a spectacular success. His creator should have won the Nobel Peace prize. Soon the story of Ferdinand could be heard being told on every street corner in Berlin. The first edition was out of print the wink of an eye, and not even a copy remained for the files. We paid dearly to buy some back from the black market, where Ferdinand finally wound up as a prize object.
Years later, after establishing the International Youth Library and the International Board on Books for Young People (IBBY), and working further afield in the developing countries of the Middle East, Lepman could write that 'in many parts of the world children were holding books in their hands and meeting over a bridge of children's books.' The Story of Ferdinand, now translated into over 60 languages, is one of them.