My favorite reading challenge is Kid Lit Frenzy’s Nonfiction Picture Book Challenge. Visit Alyson’s blog to discover more wonderful nonfiction picture book titles to read and share.
I have two reading regrets with my son: I have never read the Little House on the Prairie books to him and I have never read A.A. Milne’s books about Winnie-the-Pooh. And I feel like it’s probably too late for both series. Maybe it’s for the best that we never read the Little House books. There are so many disturbing episodes of racism that somehow I managed to overlook or ignore when I was a child reader.
But I am still a bit sad that we missed Winnie-the-Pooh. There was a window of perhaps two years when my son would have liked the story and subject, but I always thought the self-conscious writing style with its frequent authorial intrusions and family in-jokes would be too challenging for his English comprehension.
So my son will probably always only know Winnie-the-Pooh through the Disneyfied version. Now there is also Winnie: The True Story of the Bear Who Inspired Winnie-the-Pooh, a nonfiction picture book written by Sally Walker and illustrated by Jonathan Voss that narrates the story of the real-life bear who captured the imagination of A.A. Milne’s son, Christopher Robin, and inspired Milne’s bedtime stories that later turned into the chapter books.
Christopher Robin and Milne don’t show up until close to the end of this story. The book begins with Harry Colebourne, a Canadian veterinarian who had enlisted as a soldier in World War I. He sees a baby bear for sale at a train station, purchases it, and persuades his Captain that he can take care of her and that Winnie will make a fine mascot for his company. There are many lovely, warm illustrations depicting Winnie’s relationship with Harry and the fun the other soldiers have with her as their mascot. The bear travels with the company through its training and to London, but there Harry and Winnie must part company when Harry is sent to the front in France. The London Zoo agrees to take care of Winnie while Harry is away in France, but this at-first temporary solution becomes permanent after four years of war.
And it’s at the London Zoo that Milne’s ten-year-old son, Christopher Robin, first encounters Winnie. The bear is so gentle that the zookeepers allow children to feed and ride her. Christopher Robin is so taken by the bear that he renames his own teddy bear Winnie and asks his father to tell him a bedtime story starring Winnie. And there the famous books begin.
The story that Walker tells is quite fascinating, and the book is beautifully illustrated and designed. The back matter includes an Author’s Note with more information as well as a list of sources. I was also impressed by the thoughtful design of the end pages: inside the front cover are vintage photos of Harry and Winnie, and inside the back cover are photos of A.A. Milne, Christopher Robin, the famous teddy bear, and Christopher Robin visiting the zoo and Winnie.