Fifteen years ago, when my son was only five-years-old, we took a trip to London during which we visited the London Zoo. It was at the Zoo that I learned the true story of Winnie the Pooh. I had heard bits and pieces over the years and knew that A.A. Milne’s books were based on stories he told his son, Christopher Robin, about a “real” bear. But it was this statue that filled in the gaps:
Before Christopher Robin visited Winnie at the London Zoo, there was a veterinarian and Canadian soldier named Harry Colebourne. While on his way to England during WWI, Colebourne purchased the small bear cub for $20.00 and named him Winnie in honor of his hometown, Winnipeg, Canada. Winnie stayed with Colebourne’s regiment during their training, but when they were sent to France, Winnie was left under the protection the London Zoo, which ultimately became his home.
Now Colebourne’s great granddaughter, Lindsay Mattick has told the story of Winnie the Pooh in a beautiful picture book illustrated by Sophie Blackall. Finding Winnie tells two stories: the story of Harry Colebourne finding the black bear who becomes the mascot for his regiment. And a second story about a little boy, Christopher Robin Milne, who visits the bear at the London Zoo.
Blackall, the illustrator of the popular Ivy and Bean series, strikes just the right tone. Her pictures of Harry and his bear are warm and affectionate. Winnie’s eyes are expressive and sweet, but he’s portrayed as a real animal who grows too large to travel to France during war time!
Finding Winnie is the perfect story to share with young Pooh fans, but it will be most appreciated by older children – ages 6 to 10 – who can follow both stories and understand how they are connected.
If you’re an elementary school teacher, this would be a fun book to share with kids and talk about how (in 1966) a Canadian bear became the yellow bear wearing a red shirt!