Lindsay Mattick, Finding Winnie: The story of the real bear who inspired Winnie-the-Pooh. Illustrated by Sophie Blackall
Published 2015 by Orchard, 54p
Winnie-the-Pooh created by A.A. Milne is probably the most famous bear in the world. What is less known is that before Winnie-the-Pooh there was a real bear that became Milne’s inspiration for his character.
In 1914 a Canadian veterinarian, Harry Colebourn, left his home to heal horses in the World War II. During his long journey to the army base in England he rescued a bear cub from a trapper.
Harry thought for a long time. Then he said to himself, “there is something special about that Bear”. He felt inside his pocket and said, “I shouldn’t”. He paced back and forth and said, “I can’t”. Then his heart made up his mind, and he walked up to the trapper and said, “I’ll give you twenty dollars for the bear.”
Colebourn named the bear Winnipeg, after his hometown (Winnie for short) and introduced her to the other soldiers. Soon she became their beloved mascot and Colebourn’s best soul comfort in those difficult times. When the brigade was called to fight, Harry made a crucial but necessary decision – he took Winnie to London Zoo where she could be safe.
The story is told by Lindsay Mattick, Harry Colebourn’s great granddaughter. She found Harry’s diary and photographs in the family archive and wanted to tell her son, Cole, the story of an unusual but beautiful friendship and to stimulate his curiosity about ancestors and their history.
Lindsay’s tone is warm, parental and the family pride she feels is easy to be noticed. Sophie Blackall’s illustrations perfectly complete the text, conferring it tenderness and distinction.
The bear had lived at London Zoo for more than twenty years, being one of the great attractions as children were allowed to enter her enclosure. One day, a boy and his father went to visit the zoo and the boy, Christopher Robin Milne, found Winnie, rode her back and loved her forever. His father, Alan Alexander Milne found inspiration in their dear moments and Winnipeg became Winnie-the-Pooh.
The end of the book includes Mattick’s family album – old photographs and the diary page when Harry found Winnie. In 1992 a statue of the two – Winnie and Harry – was unveiled in Winnipeg, reminding people that history is the source of beautiful, eternal stories.
Complement Finding Winnie with A.A. Milne’s When We Were Very Young, a collection of poems that depict happy childhood and with Sophie Blackall’s The Baby Tree, an enchanting book that explains reproduction for children.