Years ago, I heard the tale of how Winnie-the-Pooh was based on a true bear. Now Lindsay Mattick has written a picture book that details an amazing story of the world’s most famous bear and even includes a photo album. A #1 New York Times Bestseller and winner of the 2016 Caldecott Medal, Finding Winnie is on my list of books to buy.
If you weren’t already aware, in 1914, there was a veterinarian named Harry Colburn from Winnipeg who rescued a bear while on the way to care for soldiers’ horses during World War 1. After paying $20 to a trapper, Colburn took the baby bear he had just purchased with him to an army base in England. Everyone there agreed she was a remarkable bear. Unfortunately, as winter arrived, so did the orders to fight in France. To keep Winnie safe, Harry took her to the London Zoo, where one day a boy named Christopher Robin Milne met Winnie during a visit …. The rest is literary history.
Why would I want a copy of Finding Winnie, when I already know the tale by heart of how Christopher Robin’s father wrote books all about his son and the adventures of his stuffed animals? Because Finding Winnie is so wonderfully written that it makes a beautiful keepsake. Mattick has framed it as a bedtime story. At the start, her son Cole asks her for a story. And even though it’s late, she tells him one—about a bear. Because she frames it as a bedtime story, throughout there are questions that a young child might naturally ask his mom. There’s also the moment where the story of Harry and Winnie ends, but Cole wants it to continue. And so his mom tells him of how once upon a time there was a little boy with a stuffed bear. Satisfied with this extension to the story, Cole next asks about Harry. And so the questions continue until Cole falls asleep.
Finding Winnie is also delightfully illustrated. The story itself is filled with watercolor washes and cheery ink drawings. The people are rosy-cheeked and expressive, while Winnie appears at times curious and other times soulful. As an added perk, the back pages contain an album of photographs and scans. The photos are of Harry, his fellow soldiers, Winnie herself, and even of Christopher Robin. The scans include a sample of Harry’s diary, as well as an official Animal Record Card that shows when Winnie began her stay at the London Zoo.
Beyond these merits are the thematic ones. I owe credit for these ideas to an article by Lindsay Mattick in The Guardian. She talks about how family histories are worth exploring and sharing with the world. The great-granddaughter of Captain Harry Colburne, she has told Winnie’s story as a radio documentary, spearheaded an exhibition, and traveled to London to commemorate Harry and Winnie’s experience in World War 1. Mattick also talks about how one never knows that impact a single loving gesture can have. If not for Harry’s single loving gesture one day at a train station, Winnie might not have been rescued or become the inspiration for a series of beloved and classic stories.
Finding Winnie will be a lovely addition to the shelves of anyone like myself who grew up reading the Winnie-the-Pooh stories. For those yet to discover the antics of Christopher, Winnie, Tigger, Piglet, Eeyore, and Rabbit, this well-received picture book might inspire a whole new generation of readers.
My rating? Bag it: Carry it with you. Make it a top priority to read.
How would you rate this book?