Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Winnie: The True Story of the Bear Who Inspired Winnie-the-Pooh by Sally M. Walker

Winnie: The True Story of the Bear Who Inspired Winnie-the-Pooh by Sally M. Walker, illustrated by Jonathan D. Voss
Henry Holt & Company

Rating: 4 stars

Several months ago I came across a middle grade nonfiction book on a publisher's website that I just had to read. Soldier Bear by Bibi Dumon Tak is the story of a bear adopted by the 2nd Polish Corps during World War II. I was fascinated to learn how a group of soldiers fell in love with a bear, and it became a contributing, participating part of their unit. (Read my Goodreads review here.)

And still, I didn't know that Winnie-the-Pooh was inspired by the same type of unit, this time a British, not Polish unit, during World War I. This time a company that included Harry Colebourn who was stationed in Canada at the time. Harry was part of the veterinary corps and saw a little bear on a platform at a train stop. He rushed out to see her, ended up buying her from the hunter who killed the bear's mother before he saw her baby. When Harry rushed back onto the train with a bear cub in his hands, his friends and captain were dumbstruck.
Winnie's favorite game was hide-and-go-seek...

"I had to save her!" Harry protested. And he named her Winnipeg, after their company's hometown. Her name was shortened to Winnie by the time the company reached their destination.

As you'd probably expect, Winnie was a funny little member of their tribe. She played games with the men and diverted their attention from the reality of war they faced. She also got into a lot of trouble by...well, just being a bear. But all the men loved their new mascot.

Winnie traveled with Harry's company when they moved from Canada back to England. But when he received orders to care for horses injured from battle in France, Harry knew that Winnie shouldn't go along. He contacted the London Zoo, which had a brand-new place called the Mappin Terraces built exclusively for bears.

The real Harry with the real Winnie.
After a tearful good-bye, Winnie began her second life at the zoo. "We've never had a friendlier bear as Winnie," the zookeepers said. They even allowed children to ride on the bear!

One day, a man with a young boy visited Winnie at the London Zoo. The boy hugged Winnie and gave him milk. The boy's name was Christopher Robin; his father was A.A. Milne, a well-known author. That evening at bedtime, Christopher Robin wanted to hear stories about his stuffed animal bear, whose name he changed to Winnie-the-Pooh.

And the bear at the London Zoo became a little more famous.

This is one of two picture book biographies of Winnie-the-Pooh published this year--the duplication is no doubt caused by the fact that last year was the 100th anniversary of the birthday of the real bear that inspired Winnie-the-Pooh. I grabbed it off the new book shelf because I realized the bear's history when I saw a soldier hugging the little cub on the cover. And look, we all ended up learning a little more about one very famous little bear.

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