Munro Leaf was a children's writer best known for writing The Story of Ferdinand, published in 1936 and illustrated by Robert Lawson. The story is about Ferdinand, a Spanish bull, who prefers smelling the flowers to participating in bullfights. With its perceived message of peace and individualism and in conjunction with the Spanish Civil War and rising tensions in Europe, the book sparked controversy and was attacked as both communist propaganda and a satire of pacifism. Leaf himself claimed no ulterior motive for the book, saying that Ferdinand was innocent fun, written simply so that "Robert Lawson and I could have a good time."1 But Leaf wrote many other children's books including the Can Be Fun series of ten titles which address such topics as health, safety, manners, arithmetic, and geography in an instructive, humorous style. The first title in the series, published in 1934, was Grammar Can be Fun, which Leaf was inspired to write when he overheard a mother in the New York subway trying to explain to her son why he shouldn't say the word "ain't." It was apparent to Leaf that the child didn't understand what the mother was trying to tell him, and he began to think about simple ways to convey to children concepts of manners and speech.2 All the books in the series use humor to get their points across. Grammar Can be Fun, for example, introduces characters such as Ain't (who is very lazy) and Yeah (who is an awful creature) along with Gimme and his two little sisters, Gonna and Wanna, who all work towards humoring the reader into doing the right thing rather than shaming him out of doing the wrong one.
Most of his books are directed towards the elementary school age child, but he did write one book, in 1938, for young adults, specifically for teenage girls, entitled, Listen, Little Girl, Before You Come to New York, a rather curious informational book for young women who are thinking about going to New York City to look for a job. It is a book which gives plain facts about the advertising, fashion and publishing industries and about dealing with landlords and boarding houses. One reviewer praised Listen Little Girl for being a book with all the answers, something that could be said of almost all Leaf's children's books, which give advice and guidance in a wide range of subjects with both sincerity and humor, and except for The Story of Ferdinand, there's no bull in them.
Notes1 "Munro Leaf" in Children's Literature Review, Gerard J. Senick, ed. Detroit: Gale Research, Inc. 1991. p. 113.
2 Molz, Kathleen, "Nickle Words for a Golden Mission" in Wilson Library Bulletin, vol. 39, No. 1, pp.45-7, quoted in "Munro Leaf" in Children's Literature Review, Gerard J. Senick, ed. Detroit: Gale Research, Inc. 1991. p. 114.
SourcesLeaf, Munro. Grammar Can be Fun. Philadelphia: J.B. Lippincott Company, 1934.
"Munro Leaf" in Children's Literature Review, Gerard J. Senick, ed. Detroit: Gale Research, Inc. 1991. p. 113.
Copyright 2004 © Rita Smith
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