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Well if I did have $20, and it was a bear that would later go down in history as Christopher Robin’s best friend, then yes I sure would!
Finding Winnie: The True Story of the World’s Most Famous Bear is a wonderful children’s picture book by Lindsay Mattock and illustrated brilliantly by Sophie Blackall is not only charming in every way but completely captivating.
Before it won the Caldecott Medal 2016, I had seen it sitting on a variety of bookstore shelves but hadn’t picked it up yet. Honestly I’m glad I waited because this book was like receiving the best gift. This is the kind of children’s picture book that you’ll always remember when you read it first, who you read it to or with, and that you always want to have this book near.
Did you know that Winnie-the-Pooh was fashioned after a real life bear and that Christopher Robin really existed ?
Before Winnie-the-Pooh, there was a real bear named Winnie. And she was a girl!
In 1914, Harry Colebourn, a veterinarian on his way to tend horses in World War I, followed his heart and rescued a baby bear on the train platform. He named her Winnie, after his hometown of Winnipeg, and he took the bear to war.
Harry Colebourn’s real-life great-granddaughter tells the true story of a remarkable friendship and an even more remarkable journey–from the fields of Canada to a convoy across the ocean to an army base in England…
And finally to the London Zoo, where Winnie made another new friend: a real boy named Christopher Robin.
This book is a heart felt story by Harry Colebourn’s great grand-daughter Lindsay Mattick. Even making it more engaging are the beautiful illustrations by Sophie Blackall. I love her use of color and her very inventive way of telling the story through art. One of my favorite pages is when the train is moving from Winnipeg across Canada. She captured this movement in a very unique way. Sophie also illustrated the Ivy and Bean series.
There are also some very unique storytelling features in this book such as the conversation between Lindsay and her son Cole. It captures perfectly what reading with children is like and brings and authentic air to the story. We felt as if we were right on that bed with Lindsay and Cole being told Harry Colebourn’s story.
Once Winnie was in Europe with Harry it became apparent that there was a war going on and that the bear had to be placed somewhere safe. There really wasn’t a safer place than the London zoo. Winnie was so tame that when A.A. Milne took his son Christopher to the zoo, Christopher at one point was allowed to go into the enclosure with the bear and play with him. Christopher had a stuffed bear at home who he didn’t know what to name. Because of his friendship with Winnie, he decided to name his stuffed friend Winnie-the-Pooh. His father wrote about all of their exploits both the stuffed version and the zoo version of Winnie in his classic Winnie the Pooh books.
Here’s an upclose look from Lindsay Mattick
Something To Do
There are so many wonderful things to explore and discover in Finding Winnie.
One of the most charming illustrations in the book is the one of their Family Tree. A great activity is to create a 4 generation family tree with your child.
To create a family tree one always starts with themselves. Here are some great tips and links to creating your family tree.
Lindsay Mattick chose to tell one of her family stories in Finding Winnie. Have your child or the children in your library or classroom share verbally a family story. What family stories have they been told ? Many children like to tell stories they’ve heard about when they were a baby. PBS has a great series called Story Corps. Have a look and find a story to share with your child that will inspire them to tell a story of their own. Also feel free to share a family story that you love or that is funny. For my family the “miserable” camping stories always win out. You just can’t beat a family camping story complete with bugs, and cooking in rainstorms.
Mapping Winnie’s Journey
As Harry leaves Winnepeg map his journey via Google Earth to see just how far he went and how many miles he traveled. He had to take a train, a boat, and then a car to get Winnie to the London Zoo.
The Real Winnie-the-Pooh
I’ve always loved that Winnie-the-Pooh was a real bear. I’ve never looked into it further and have very well worn, read, and loved copies of all the Winnie-the-Pooh series. Let’s look a little further into the history of this most famous bear.
In collaboration with Harry Colebourn’s family, Ryerson University Library and Archives has a wonderful online exhibit called The Real Winnie, which includes some of Harry Colebourn’s diary pages, maps, photographs, essays and his vet kit.
The White River Heritage Museum has this interesting and short post on Harry Colebourn called The History of Winnie the Pooh
Here’s a video from the London Zoo about the bear that inspired Winnie-the-Pooh.
While you continue to explore Winnie-the-Pooh and the true story that inspired it, have a look at Sally Walker’s book Winnie: The True Story of the Bear Who Inspired Winnie-the-Pooh.
Behind the Scenes
Want to go into artists Sophie Blackall’s studio and see how she research and puts together her illustrations ? I found her blog to be so fascinating and her process intriguing . May it inspire you!
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From Bears to FOXES!
Experience the magical story of a family of foxes that took up residence right in the front yard of the author and publisher, Valarie Budayr. The Fox Diaries: The Year the Foxes Came to our Garden offers an enthusiastically educational opportunity to observe this fox family grow and learn together.
From digging and hunting to playing and resting, this diary shares a rare glimpse into the private lives of Momma Rennie and her babies. Come watch as they navigate this wildly dangerous but still wonderful world. Great to share with your children or students, The Fox Diaries speaks to the importance of growing and learning both individually and as a family unit. It is a perfect book for story time or family sharing. Not only can you read about the daily rituals of this marvelous fox family, there is an information-packed resource section at the end of the book that includes lots of facts and even a few “fox movies” that you can enjoy with your family. Grab your copy of this beautiful and inspiring book HERE.