Cindy: After a year on the Sibert Award I said I was taking a break from nonfiction, but when I saw the cover art, the title, and the name Sally Walker on Winnie: The True Story of the Bear Who Inspired Winnie-the-Pooh (2015), I just couldn’t resist. Last year saw the publication of many soldier-and-dog stories, including Ann Bausum’s Stubby the War Dog: The True Story of World War I’s Bravest Dog (2014)—but a bear?
Harry Colebourn, a Canadian Army Veterinary Corps lieutenant, had a chance meeting with a bear cub at a train station in 1914. He bought the cub for $20 and named him “Winnipeg” for the Corps’ hometown. Winnipeg became “Winnie” and Harry’s fast friend. The two were inseparable until the war took them too close to the battlefront and Harry made the hard decision to leave Winnie at the London Zoo. It was there that a young boy named Christopher Robin met a bear so gentle that children were allowed to pet and hand-feed him. That night, Christopher’s teddy bear got a new name, “Winnie-the-Pooh,” and his father, A. A. Milne, told him the first of many stories about a bear and boy—stories that children are still reading to this day.
Jonathan D. Voss’s watercolor and pen-and-ink illustrations are charming and, combined with Walker’s storytelling, caused me to shed a couple of tears along the way. From the bear hug on the cover to the first bear-cub lick on the chin to the final pot of honey, children will be mesmerized. A winner for elementary-school children for sure, but I’m adding it to my bibliography for my middle-school picture-book nonfiction research project, too. This is a gem.
Lynn: Christopher Robin’s Winnie may have been a “Bear of Very Little Brain” but the original Winnie clearly had plenty of brain and recognized a true friend when she met him. I loved this story of the gentle bear loved by so many and the caring man who rescued her.
Walker provides wonderful and historic photographs of Harry, Winnie and, the military camps; A. A. Milne with Christopher Robin; and even the train station where Harry first met Winnie. These appear on the end papers so be sure not to miss those. An author’s note tells more of the story and Walker also includes websites, links to vintage videos, and sources including the “Winnie file” at the London Zoo.
Cindy: Reading this book reminded me of a photo I unearthed recently of my father at Grafenwohr Army base in Germany in 1957. His base apparently had a lion mascot named Charlie. I am trying to research more details, as I never heard the stories while my dad was alive. Soldiers apparently bonded with many animals while serving their countries. History is fascinating!
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