Munro Leaf, who celebrated his birthday on December 4th, was born in Hamilton, Maryland in 1905. He graduated from the University of Maryland and received an MA in English literature from Harvard University. He worked in publishing and met many famous book people, especially in the children’s literature field—his wife, Margaret, ran the children’s book section at Brentano’s bookstore in New York City.
When illustrator Robert Lawson, a good friend, complained that he was “unhappy having to conform to publishers’ ideas,” Leaf determined to write a story Lawson could have fun illustrating, and that was the birth of The Story of Ferdinand (Viking, 1936), the peace-loving bull. When asked why he wrote about a bull, Leaf said it was because “dogs, cats, rabbits, and mice have been done thousands of times.” What a book! The Spanish Civil War broke out soon after Ferdinand was published and politicos claimed the book was a satire on aggression—terrific publicity for a children’s book. In Germany, Hitler ordered the book to be burned. Ghandi proclaimed it his favorite book. It has been translated into 60 languages.
His second most popular book was Manners Can Be Fun, part of a 10-book series that also included Grammar Can Be Fun. These books are being reissued today for a whole new generation of young people. He lived next door to Hendrik Van Loon, the first winner of the Newbery Medal in 1921 for The Story of Mankind. Leaf worked with Ludwig Bemelmans on his book, Noodle. Wilbur Munro Leaf died in 1976 at the age of 71.