The story of how author A.A. Milne was inspired by his son Christopher’s love of his stuffed toys to write his beloved stories about Winnie the Pooh is well-known. But the story of the real bear that inspired Christopher to name his teddy bear Winnie is less well-known — and that is the story that Sally M. Walker tells in Winnie: The Remarkable Tale of a Real Bear.
Who could care for a bear? When Harry Colebourn saw a baby bear for sale at the train station, he knew he could care for it. Harry was a veterinarian. But he was also a soldier in training for World War I. Harry named the bear Winnie, short for Winnipeg, his company’s home town, and he brought her along to the training camp in England. Winnie followed Harry everywhere and slept under his cot every night. Before long, she became the regiment’s much-loved mascot.But who could care for the bear when Harry had to go to the battleground in France? Harry found just the right place for Winnie while he was away—the London Zoo. There a little boy named Christopher Robin came along and played with Winnie—he could care for this bear too!Sally Walker’s heartwarming story, paired with Jonathan Voss’s evocative illustrations, brings to life the story of the real bear who inspired Winnie the Pooh.
Though Walker does touch on Christopher Robin’s meeting with the bear, and how it later inspired Milne to write the Winnie the Pooh series, she glosses over much of that aspect of the story (wisely so, considering the tumultuous relationship between father and son). But rather she focuses on the charming love between a soldier and a bear.
Winnie really is a remarkable tale — about a bear living with soldiers, and playfully following along during drills and training. It’s heartbreaking when Harry must leave Winnie at the London Zoo — and Jonathan D. Voss’s beautiful illustrations really hammer home the emotions of the story. (The illustrations of Harry and Winnie’s parting at the zoo are particularly strong.)
And though the story is a bittersweet one about a unique little bear, Walker reminds readers that it is also a true story. The book is end-capped with photos of the real Winnie, Harry, and Christopher Robin — as well as a quick real-life summary about the lives of both Winnie and Harry. It’s the perfect book both for existing fans of Winnie the Pooh, and little readers who have yet to discover the adventures in the Hundred Acre Wood.
Winnie: The Remarkable Tale of a Real Bear is in stores January 20th.