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.
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.
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.
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…