Wednesday, January 13, 2016

Finding Winnie: The True Story of the World's Most Famous Bear by Lindsay Mattick

Finding Winnie: The True Story of the World's Most Famous Bear by Lindsay Mattick, illustrated by Sophie Blackall
Little, Brown & Company

Rating: 5 stars

Last year two books about the origin of Winnie-the-Pooh were published. I saw both at our local library but only selected one, Winnie: The True Story of the Bear Who Inspired Winnie-the-Pooh, to check out, read, and review. For whatever reason, it was only last week that I got around to checking out Finding Winnie. And it was only yesterday, the day after it won the Caldecott, that I got around to reading it.

I was truly blown away--mostly by Sophie Blackall's artwork, but also by the way this version of the story unraveled. Here's how it goes:

A little boy and his mother sit together. "Tell me a story, a true one, about a bear," the little boy requests. The mother obliges, and she starts this one:
"I've decided to name her Winnipeg, so we'll never be
far from home. Winnie, for short."

Once upon a time there was a soldier, a veterinarian-soldier, named Harry Colebourn, who traveled far from his home in Winnipeg to help in the war. He rode in a train with many men just like him. The train "rolled right through dinner and over the sunset and around ten o'clock and into a nap and out the next day" until it finally stopped at a train station in White River.

Harry got out to stretch his legs. While walking around, he saw a trapper and a bear cub. He knew the bear's fate was dark and the cub tugged at his heart. Harry bought him for $20, thus boarding a train with a bear cub that he argued would be his squad's mascot. The bear, quickly named Winnipeg, which was quickly shortened to Winnie, was a fun mascot and much-needed diversion from the reality of war. Harry and Winnie trained together, slept together, and even traveled across the Atlantic to England together to fight in the war.

But Harry realized a war would be too dangerous for a cub, so he gave Winnie up and signed her over to the London Zoo.

Thirty ships sailed together, carrying about 36,000 men, and
about 7,500 horses...and about one bear named Winnie.
"The story is over?" the boy asked.

His mother answered, in a great, wise, sentence I'll repeat for a long, long time: "Sometimes one story must end so another can begin."

Once upon a time there was a little boy with a stuffed teddy bear who needed a name. The boy and his father walked together to the London Zoo, where a real bear stood behind a gate. It was Winnie. The boy not only named his teddy after Winnie, calling the stuffed bear Winnie-the-Pooh, but he also played with real, yet tame, Winnie--going right inside the fenced yard!

The boy's name was Christopher Robin, and his father's name was Alan Alexander Milne. His father write many books about his son and the bear, books inspired by a real boy and a real bear.

Harry drove all the way to the Big City.
I loved Finding Winnie, then turned the page and was yet again surprised and impressed by it: The mother in the story is the author, and also the great-granddaughter of Harry Colebourne! The boy in the story is named after him--his name is Cole. A beautiful family tree illustrates the connection very clearly. The back pages of the book turn into an album that includes pictures of Harry as a young soldier, the journal in which he writes that he bought a bear, pictures of Winnie and her soldiers. Then, there are pictures of Christopher Robin, playing with Winnie, with his father looking on in the background.

This is a keeper of a book--a lovely reminder of many things. That acts of kindness often reap large, unseen rewards. That loving an animal is a worthwhile endeavor. That inspiration for stories can come from a single trip to the zoo. And my favorite, that sometimes one story must end for another to begin.

Congratulations to Lindsay Mattick and Sophie Blackall, for creating such a fantastic, gorgeous book! Congratulations to Sophie Blackall for winning the 2016 Caldecott!

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