The Story of Ferdinand the Bull

February 04, 2015

Introduction by Ted Kooser: Stories read to us as children can stay with us all our lives. Robert McCloskey’s Lentil was especially influential for me, and other books have helped to shape you. Here’s Matt Mason, who lives in Omaha, with a book that many of you will remember.

The Story of Ferdinand the Bull

Dad would come home after too long at work
and I’d sit on his lap to hear
the story of Ferdinand the Bull; every night,
me handing him the red book until I knew
every word, couldn’t read,
just recite along with drawings
of a gentle bull, frustrated matadors,
the all-important bee, and flowers—
flowers in meadows and flowers
thrown by the Spanish ladies.
Its lesson, really,
about not being what you’re born into
but what you’re born to be,
even if that means
not caring about the capes they wave in your face
or the spears they cut into your shoulders.
And Dad, wonderful Dad, came home
after too long at work
and read to me
the same story every night
until I knew every word, couldn’t read,
                                                                                                  just recite.

American Life in Poetry is made possible by The Poetry Foundation (, publisher of Poetry magazine. It is also supported by the Department of English at the University of Nebraska, Lincoln. Poem copyright ©2013 by Matt Mason from his most recent book of poems, The Baby That Ate Cincinnati, Stephen F. Austin State University Press, 2013. Poem reprinted by permission of Matt Mason and the publisher. Introduction copyright ©2014 by The Poetry Foundation. The introduction’s author, Ted Kooser, served as United States Poet Laureate Consultant in Poetry to the Library of Congress from 2004-2006. We do not accept unsolicited manuscripts.

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  1. How I LOVE this book, it's one of the few I had in childhood & I still have that copy. Interesting how today the idea is also dear to my heart, in childhood it was simply loving that bull & relating to him. It's a sweet poem you printed here, thank you.

  2. I love this book. I didn't have a lot of books growing up. Reading was considered a waste of time outside of school (as was art). I read this to my students frequently. I always emphasized "be what you were meant to be".

    The only book I remember from childhood that made a difference in my life was a little golden book titled Scuffy the Tugboat.
    He was a little toy boat that had all sorts of adventures from the bath tub to the ocean. It made such an impression on me and I think that is when the seed was planted in my soul to wander the world. At the end he was happiest at home. I still have my copy.

    There have been may books that have made a difference in my life as an adult. One of them is Pearl Buck's The Good Earth.

  3. I don't remember this book, but the son's memories of his father make this a really special poem to me anyway.

  4. Rita--I remembered this story from childhood, and the photo is of the copy I bought to read to my son that I've kept. It was always a favorite with me. I just love that bull! The poem touched a nerve for me.

  5. Clare--Thanks for sharing a couple of the books that made a difference for you. I've never read The Good Earth (one of the many books I haven't read!), though Scuffy sounds familiar somehow. I'm glad the poem awakened these memories and that you shared them!

  6. Cheryl--The poem resonated with me, both because of the book, which I love, but also because of the memories of being read to by my mom, and of reading to my son. The book in the photo is the one I read to him when he was little.

  7. What a great poem about a wonderful childhood book. Thank you friend for sharing. Hope you are having a great weekend!

  8. Glad you enjoyed it, Debbie. Hope you had a good weekend, too.