(1905–1976), American writer and illustrator. Leaf illustrated most of his own books for young children. Especially in the 1930s and 1940s, but also into the 1950s, he produced a long series of entertainingly instructive books with titles modeled on the pattern of Arithmetic Can Be Fun (1939); other volumes deal with Manners (1937), Grammar, Safety, Health, History, Geography, Reading, and Science (1958). Many of his books concern the behavior of children: The Watchbirds: A Picture Book of Behavior (1939) and How to Behave and Why (1946) are examples. Among Leaf's wide-ranging publications is an army field manual of 1934 on malaria, illustrated by Dr. Seuss. His two most famous works, The Story of Ferdinand (1936) and Wee Gillis (1938), have boldly stylish and amusing pictures by Robert Lawson, with whom he also produced a new version of Aesop's Fables (1941). Wee Gillis is the tale of a boy who plays the biggest bagpipes in Scotland. The life of Ferdinand the bull had an important historical context and, though not apparent to children, a powerful political message. Ferdinand, reared in an idyllic Spanish landscape, has been bred to fight in the bullring; when he gets there, he sits down, refusing to fight, and so is taken back home to sit quietly under his favorite cork tree, smelling the flowers. Published at the time of the Spanish Civil War (1936–1939) and once controversial, it is a captivating pacifist fable for all time and a classic of modern children's literature.
From The Oxford Encyclopedia of Children's Literature in Oxford Reference.