A bear by any other name: a story…

In which, we discover new books about our favorite bear

I’m working on a new book project, not ‘toons but a non fiction book about…wait for it…PANDAS!!!!! Are you surprised? More will be revealed in due time. But as I haven’t read much non fiction for kids, I thought I better do a little studying over at the Freeland Branch of our public library.

The irony of Mehitabel criticizing Pooh Bear for his wardrobe, does not escape me.

I went into their online catalog, got some suggestions from my agent and other writer friends, and generally started rooting around and ordering big piles of books from the library. I found two books that were about the true life story of the actual bear who inspired Winnie the Pooh.  The first is Winnie: The True Story of the Bear Who Inspired Winnie the Pooh, by Sally M Walker and illustrated by Jonathan D Voss. The second is Finding Winnie: The True Story of the World’s most Famous Bear, by Lindsay Mattick and illustrated by Sophie Blackall. (Lindsay Mattick is the great granddaughter of Harry Colebourne)

Both are wonderful books, with very different illustration styles, but they both recount the quite accidental finding and adoption of a black bear cub by Harry Colebourne, a Canadian Army veterinarian traveling by train, heading to a posting during World War 1. I’m not going to go into all of details of the story. Head to the library or your favorite bookstore and read them for yourself. One point I will let you in on, in advance, is that after traveling across Canada and the Atlantic Ocean with Harry and his fellow soldiers, Winnie eventually ended up living at the London Zoo, where she met her good friend Christopher Robin. Yes, that Christopher Robin.

I’m not sure Mehitabel has anything to talk about.

Now, If you’ve been reading this blog for any length of time, you know that I have an everlasting devotion to and affection for the Pooh Bear himself. There is a lot of the bear of little brain in Bob T. I had heard of these books, (Winnie, and Finding Winnie) but hadn’t yet gotten around to reading them. I’m so glad I have rectified that omission!

One thing both these books have in common, were actual pictures of Harry and his bear as they traveled across Canada and the ocean, at the post in England, and then at the London Zoo. There is a photograph of Christopher Robin, looking just like you would expect him to look, playing with the actual Winnie, as his father A A Milne, watches from above. It was taken in 1925, the year before the original publication of Winnie the Pooh.

31 days

Mini Bob, hanging out with Pooh Bear at the Prints and Drawing Study Room at the Victoria and Albert Museum in London. And yes, this is an actual sketch by Ernest H Shepard.

I have to quote this paragraph from the introduction of Winnie the Pooh. I had always assumed that it was part of the fiction, of a bear and his boy, but the photograph puts that thought to rest forever.

“You can’t be in London for long without going to the Zoo. There are some people who begin the Zoo at the beginning, called WAYIN, and walk as quickly as they can past every cage until they get to the one called WAYOUT, but the nicest people go straight to the animal they love the most, and stay there. So when Christopher Robin goes to the Zoo, he goes to where the Polar Bears are, and he whispers something to the third keeper from the left, and doors are unlocked, and we wander through dark passages and up steep stairs, until at last we come to the special cage, and the cage is opened, and out trots something brown and furry, and with a happy cry of “Oh, Bear!” Christopher Robin rushes into its arms. Now this bear’s name is Winnie, which shows what a good name for bears it is, but the funny thing is that we can’t remember whether Winnie is called after Pooh, or Pooh after Winnie. We did know once, but we have forgotten.
~AA Milne; Winnie the Pooh 1926

What it made me think about more than anything, is this question:

How much of our lives turn on chance? On that instant where if we had looked the other way, we would have missed the turn, missed the face in the crowd, missed the small black bear cub on the ground under the bench when the train stopped at the station, and changed the course of literature? I guess we’ll never know, speculative science fiction, notwithstanding.

Thank you for stumbling onto The Panda Chronicles and sticking around to see what happens next.

Be the Bear…

is it….

…time for….

…a little something?

10 thoughts on “A bear by any other name: a story…

  1. Gloria DeFalco

    Your new book venture is exciting. Wishing you inspiration and good luck. Looking forward to reading it.

    1. Panda in Chief Post author

      I always feel brilliant at the start of a new project. I’m waiting to enter the “what was I thinking phase” which comes very soon, I believe!

  2. Aimee Prefers Plants (@Aimee_Abq)

    Sometimes you just make me cry, but not in a bad way. I have often pondered serendipity, coincidence and fate. Over the years I came to the conclusion that there is no such thing as coincidence. That there is so much more to existence than we with our little brains can experience/recognize. The fact that only recently physicists have “discovered” dark matter and dark energy, and STILL have no idea what they really are, is telling. That ‘still small voice’ that tells us to look a certain direction or do a certain thing is beyond our understanding. If only we could hear it a little louder. Sorry – a little long winded today.

    1. Panda in Chief Post author

      It is the best compliment that I can imagine, that I have moved you, whether to laugh or to cry. I was quite surprised to see how many of the stories that I read in the narrative non fiction books I read, moved me to tears. (Apparently there are 5 different permutations of non-fiction picture books. Who knew?) But reading the story of the true Pooh Bear made me cry copious tears. And seeing the picture of Christopher Robin with Winnie… Oh Bear!
      Thank you for reading, and thank you for writing, (and thank you for the cookies! I did share a LITTLE)

  3. Kodechrome

    I love Pooh, and I love Bob (and the rest of the crew!). Thanks for giving us more great bears to read about.

    1. Panda in Chief Post author

      Thank you! Winnie the Pooh was one of my favorite books growing up, and the beginning of my wish to be an artist, so Pooh and I, well, we are very close.

  4. Vicky V

    I cannot wait to read a non-fiction book by you! And it’s about pandas!!
    I often think about the way our lives turn out. How one moment changes everything. I also find the concept of parallel universes both fascinating and frightening – I’m curious to know what would have happened if I chose a different paths at pivotal life moments – but I’m also terrified!
    Mehitabel telling Pooh NOT TO STAND UP is one of my favourite Panda Chronicles moments 🙂


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