WWE superstar John Cena stepped on stage at the Library of Congress Wednesday morning not to wrestle any librarians, but to read the book “The Story of Ferdinand” to middle-school students.
“The Story of Ferdinand,” an award-winning children’s book written in 1936 by Munro Leaf, has been adapted to a full-length animated movie starring Cena as Ferdinand the Bull and premiering Dec. 15. Cena read the book in front of about 430 middle-school children in the auditorium at the Library of Congress, and the reading was also streamed live on YouTube.
Cena’s deep baritone voice was surprisingly gentle as he read and later answered questions from the children. Following the reading, the floor was open to 30 minutes of questions, with teachers holding out microphones for inquisitive students.
Cena was asked why he chose the role of Ferdinand in the upcoming movie, and what he thought he had in common with the character. Cena said he believes that one should not judge a book by its cover, or in this case, “judge a bull by its horns.”
“The Story of Ferdinand” is about an enormous peaceful bull who enjoys smelling flowers in the shade, but is mistaken by matadors for a ferocious beast and thrown into a bullfighting pit. Despite the matadors poking and prodding Ferdinand, and despite the crowd shouting at him to fight, the soft-hearted bull simply sits and enjoys the smell of some flowers that have grown at the edge of the pit.
Cena said he sees Ferdinand as someone who stayed true to who they were, despite pressure from others to act differently.
“Never let others make decisions for you,” Cena said. “Listen to everyone and everything around you, but always make your own choices.”
Cena later joked about liking his wrestling job when he’s “doing well” and shared his favorite books to read as a child, including “Cars, Trucks and Things That Go” by author Richard Scarry.
This reading was not Cena’s first time working with children. In 2015, he broke the record for most wishes granted with the Make-A-Wish foundation and by August of that year he had granted more than 500 wishes to children diagnosed with life-threatening medical conditions.
Cena also works extensively with Be a Star, WWE’s anti-bullying initiative. The initiative works alongside the Boys and Girls Club of America, as well as other charitable groups, to end bullying. So far more than 30,000 people from every state in the U.S. have pledged to end bullying, according to their website.
During the Q&A, a young boy asked Cena if he had ever been bullied before.
“Yes I did. And not only at school,” Cena said. “I didn’t look like everyone else, I didn’t talk like everyone else, and it was a very difficult time.”
Cena added that while he has grown up and learned to deal with challenges like bullying, he still deals with scrutiny on a daily basis. People deride and attack him on social media constantly, but he said that his experience with fame in the WWE has taught him how to be tolerant.
One of the children in the audience asked Cena why he has so many different jobs, including acting and performing in the WWE. Cena responded by saying that he loved his work and that he couldn’t imagine stopping.
“You all have a long road ahead of you,” Cena said. “You have you do what you love.”