Earlier in bingo, I learned that Winnie the Pooh was published in 1926 and so counted for “The Roaring 20’s”. I went looking through my library to discover that we don’t have a copy (though we have the entire Paddington collection). However, Grandma had sent this book to my kids!
Finding Winnie opens with a mother (the author) telling her son a true story about a bear. Winnie’s story begins in Winnipeg, Canada with a young veterinarian named Harry Colbourn. Harry specialized in treating horses and cows. When called up for military service in 1914, Harry went to care for the horses.
A chance decision to stretch his legs at a train station, on the way to basic training, led to him buying a female bear cub from a trapper. Harry named her Winnipeg, “Winnie” for short. The men in his regiment also fell for the sweet bear and she became the Mascot of the Second Canadian Infantry Brigade. Taught to stand up straight and hold her head high, she was assigned her own “post” and commended by the Colonel as being, “A remarkable bear”.
Harry struggled with the idea of what was best for Winnie but when it was time to sail overseas for Britain, he followed his heart and she went too. However, when orders came for his regiment to head to the front, Harry knew he couldn’t bring Winnie. On December 9th, 1914 she was accepted into the care of the London Zoo.
It was at the zoo that a second phase of Winnie’s life began. Winnie met a little boy named Christopher Robin Milne. Christopher had a beloved stuffed bear that remained nameless for many years until fate brought him to Winnie. Upon finding her, Christopher knew just what to name his bear, Winnie-the-Pooh. The two became friends, with Christopher even being allowed inside her enclosure to play (what a different world it was in the early 1920s!). The book includes a photograph of boy and bear together in 1925. Between Christopher’s stuffed animal adventures in the woods behind his home and his relationship with Winnie, Christopher’s father became inspired to write about the beloved bear we know today as Winnie-the-Pooh.
Throughout the book, the mother and child have brief asides commenting on the story. One of which is a lovely discussion of one story ending and then the next beginning. You have to keep going to find out what new story will start. This story ends with the mother explaining that she is the descendant of Harry Colbourn and the child was named in his honor. Finding Winnie preserves the heritage of the actual bear and her part in creating the cherished children’s character. It also is a story of family, connecting those events of over a hundred years ago to the present.
This is a delightful children’s picture book! I love the softly drawn and colored illustrations of Sophie Blackall. It is a charming, real life story that I’m glad to have read to learn about Winnie. The photographs of Winnie at the end of the book bring home the truth of the story. Added bonus it was winner of the Caldecott medal.