Wednesday, February 03, 2016

A Very Special Bear! Finding Winnie: The True Story of the World's Most Famous Bear by Lindsay Maltick

"Could you tell me a story?" asked Cole.

"What kind of story?"

"You know, a true story, one about a bear." he said.

And it just so happens that Cole's mom has quite a story to tell, a story passed down from her great-grandfather Harry Colebourne.

Harry was a veterinarian, and when Canada joined the Allies before World War I, he was drafted to teach soldiers in the cavalry how to care for their horses. Traveling by train from Winnipeg to his unit, young Harry spied a grizzled trapper with a captive bear on a chain. Moved by the little cub's sad eyes, Harry bought the baby black bear and took it with him to boot camp, where the bear became the unit's mascot, and then across the Atlantic to England on his troop ship, where she became beloved by all the soldiers.

Harry realized that the little bear needed a name.

He tried "Teddy" and "Edward" and even "Big Bear," but he could never find the right name.

Finally Harry nicknamed the little bear "Winnie" for his home town of Winnipeg, and she became known by everyone in the camp. But too soon the day came when Harry's troop had to ship out, and Harry had to find a new home for Winnie, at last settling on the London Zoo as the best place for a growing bear.

"We're here, Winnie!" he said. "The London Zoo! This is a going to be your home.

There's something you must remember. You'll always be my bear."

Sadly, the war was long, and Harry was never able to come back for Winnie.

But that was not to be the end of Winnie's story.

A small boy named Christopher visited the zoo often, and soon Winnie became his favorite animal. He was even allowed to go into Winnie's enclosure to play with the tame black bear and the two became very fond of each other. And...

... the boy had a name for his bear... Winnie-the-Pooh.

The boy was, of course, Christopher Robin Milne, whose father, Alan Alexander Milne, A. A. Milne, was inspired to write poems and story books about the imagined adventures of his son and his "silly old bear," books which became timeless classics of childhood.

Author Lindsay Maltick, the great-granddaughter of Harry Colebourne, tells her family's true story to her young son Cole, in Finding Winnie: The True Story of the World's Most Famous Bear (Little, Brown and Company, 2015), which has gone on to became a New York Times best-seller and the 2016 Caldecott Award winner for its illustrator, Sophie Blackall. Blackall's illustrations help tell the story in her own gentle and charming style, and children who love the adventures of Christopher Robin, Winnie-the-Pooh, Piglet, Owl, and Eeyore will now know how they came to be.

For as Piglet said to Pooh, "As soon as I saw you, I knew an adventure was going to happen."

Maltick adds a fascinating photo album, with snapshots of Cole's great-great-grandfather with his pet bear cub, pages from his soldier's diary describing Winnie's days as a military mascot, and even a wonderful 1925 photo of the real Christopher Robin visiting the real Winnie at the London Zoo and a statue in the city of Winnipeg commemorating the bear who in story became "the world's most famous bear."

"The sum total is as captivating as it is informative, transforming a personal family story into something universally resonant." says Horn Book's starred review.

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