Monday, April 20, 2015
Non-Fiction Monday: Winnie: the true story of the bear who inspired Winnie-the-Pooh by Sally M. Walker
Winnie: the true story of the bear who inspired Winnie-the-Pooh by Sally M. Walker. Illustrated by Jonathan Voss. unpgd. Henry Holt and Company, January, 2015. 9780805097153. (Purchased)
Harry Coleman was a veterinarian and soldier in the Canadian Army during World War I. He and his regiment were traveling by train enroute to shipping out overseas when, at a brief stop, Harry spotted a man holding a bear on a leash. Turns out, the man had killed the cub's mother and, being unable to care for the bear, was selling her for $20. This may seem like a pittance, but I used an inflation calculator and that $20 from the early 20th century would be equivalent to $342. That was the kind of man Harry Coleman was.
His Captain certainly was not pleased but was soon won over and Winnipeg became part of the regiment. It wasn't long before her name was shortened to Winnie. She followed Harry everywhere and slept under his cot. She soon got used to the horses that Harry was in charge of. When Harry could not be with Winnie, his buddies took turns caring for her. She even shipped out with the unit to England but once they received orders to move to the front, Harry understood Winnie would not be safe. He made arrangements for her to board at the London Zoo.
She was a great favorite there. She was so gentle that the zookeepers allowed children to pet her, feed her and ride on her back. Once the war was over Harry made the difficult decision to leave her at the zoo rather than take her back to Canada. Eventually, Winnie made the acquaintance of young Christopher Robin Milne, who renamed Edward, his stuffed bear, Winnie, adding "the Pooh."
This beguiling story is nostalgically illustrated in browns and yellows. There's a short author's note as well as suggestions for further reading. Most intriguing are the endpages, which feature photos of Winnie as well as her intake card at the London Zoo and a photo of Christopher Robin and his father.
As a student of children's literature, I probably should have known this. But that's what makes my job so much fun. I learn something new every time I read a children's book. What a sweet biography of sweet bear.