Finding Winnie: The True Story of the World’s Most Famous Bear
By Lindsay Mattick; illustrated by Sophie Blackall
Bedtime stories and bears and voila, you have a terrifically true picture book allowing young readers to follow a linking line of lineage, through this device, to find the “bear facts” surrounding that beloved bruin, Winnie-the-Pooh.
Sorry, it was just too obvious a perfect pun to resist.
The opening of the book is a common enough setting of a mom and her son at bedtime, with the son, named Cole, asking for a true bear story.
And, it seems, his mom does indeed have a story that is very much defined by these words to her son:
“Sometimes, I said, “you have
to let one story end, so the next
one can begin.”
Her initial story begins with Winnipeg Canadian vet, Harry Colebourn’s stop at a White River train station. He spies a man, possibly a trapper, with a bear cub, and on pure impulse, even though the vet is eventually slated to take care of horses at the World War I front, he buys the bear for a monumental $20, a tidy sum in 1914, and names it Winnie.
This is a love match from the start. Man and bear bond, for this is no ordinary bear. But one that can sail with a convoy of “36,000 men and about 7,500 horses…and about one bear named Winnie,” across the Atlantic from Canada to London, is one bear that can prove his mettle.
Winnie becomes a sort of bear-in-training mascot, hitching along with the vet, and the troops on Salisbury Plain, to remind them of home.
But, eventually, man and bear part at the London Zoo, as the man gets orders to move up to the front, forcing him into a decision regarding what’s best for a bear.
And another story starts.
Guess who spies Winnie at the zoo and is taken with this bear’s antics and falls in love with him as well?
It’s a boy in search of a name for his own beloved stuffed bear at home. And this boy is named Christopher Robin Milne and is accompanied to his London Zoo forays, by his father Alan Alexander Milne.
Visiting Winnie at the London Zoo, sparks A. A. Milne enchanting his son initially, and then millions of readers later, with stories of a bear named Winnie and his woodland adventures.
Harry Colebourn’s Winnie became Milne’s literary “silly old bear,” Winnie-the-Pooh!
Think this picture book is done yet? You’d be wrong if you said yes!
The story has to come full circle, and it does, with the storytelling mom revealing to her son that he is named Cole by no mere accident of choice.
Your young reader will love discovering just who Cole is named after.
Brooklyn based Australian illustrator, Sophie Blackall, has done a series of softly straightforward renderings that brings this terrifically true tale to life.
Ms. Blackall is a multiple award winning illustrator with over 20 books to her credit, including “Big Red Lollipop” that was included in the “New York Times Top Ten Picture Books 2010.”
Lindsay Mattick’s delightfully true story ends with a completion of the circular series of stories with both she, and her son, Cole’s family tree connection to Winnie’s owner from Winnipeg, revealed.
With an addendum of album photos that complete the story, young readers get to see the actual photos of the picture book participants.
Young readers can pore over pictures of vet, Harry Colebourn and his Winnie, and A.A. Milne and his son with Winnie at the London Zoo. A shot of Lindsay and baby Cole make the story complete. There is even a shot of the original 1914 diary that Harry Colebourn kept, with the August 24, 1914 fateful and fantastic day marked, when man and bear crossed paths at a train station, and a $20 purchase was made to our everlasting delight.
They, and you, will see a photo of the original “Animal Record Card” from the London Zoo, marking Winnie’s being gifted as a bear-in-residence, on December 9, 1914.
And this picture book is truly a gift in itself to any young reader.
One of my favorite lines from the book are Harry Colebourn’s parting words to Winnie as he leaves the young cub at its new home at the London Zoo.
There is something you must always
remember. It’s the most important
thing, really. Even if we’re apart, I’ll
always love you.” You’ll always be my
Delete the word “Bear” and insert “child”, and that’s a very good memory line for every child to have from someone that cares for them; be they bruin or babe.
The ripple effect of a loving good deed never ends, folks.
And, via Lindsay Mattick and Sophie Blackall, we have the picture book to prove it!
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