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Kids and Teen Blog

Tag: Winnie The Pooh

Win a Winnie!

by Alisha
Kids / January 20, 2015

Raincoast Books is celebrating the launch of Winnie: The True Story of the Bear Who Inspired Winnie-the-Pooh by giving away printer-fresh copies of the book via our Win A Winnie! contest. Participants in our online promotion include Zoomer Magazine, teacher-librarian book reviewers and parent bloggers like Lisa Evans of The Children’s Bookshelf. Lisa was the first to post her review and online contest—and she also interviewed author Sally M. Walker for an inside look behind the bear who inspired an international literary icon:

WINNIE: The True Story of the Bear Who Inspired Winnie-the-Pooh
By Lisa Evans, The Children’s Bookshelf

Like many children, I grew up reading Winnie the Pooh stories and watching the loveable, honey-addicted bear on film. I had no idea at the time that Pooh was based on a real-life bear, purchased by a Canadian soldier during a short stop on a train ride across Canada during World War I.

Author Sally M. Walker tells the story of how the soldier’s pet became an international literary icon in her new book Winnie: The True Story of the Bear Who Inspired Winnie-the-Pooh

The book follows Harry Colebourn, a veterinarian who enlisted in the Canadian military during the First World War. At a train station, Colebourn encounters a hunter with an orphaned bear cub. He buys the cub for $20, naming her “Winnie” after his hometown, Winnipeg. The loveable bear quickly becomes adopted as the soldiers’ mascot, and when the regiment is shipped out to England, Colebourn takes Winnie with him. But when the soldiers are needed on the front lines, Colebourn realizes he will have to give Winnie up and finds her a permanent home at the London Zoo.

It’s there at the zoo that Winnie begins her career entertaining children, including one young boy named Christopher Robin, who renames his own stuffed animal bear Winnie-the-Pooh, after the zoo bear. Christopher Robin’s father, the famous author A.A. Milne, is inspired by the bear and begins to create bedtime stories to tell Christopher Robin. These stories led to the famous book “Winnie-the-Pooh”, published in 1926.

This heartwarming tale is one that parents and children are sure to love. I always enjoy the opportunity to share a piece of my childhood with my son, and this tale doesn’t disappoint. The book blends illustrations that bring Winnie’s remarkable story to life and also includes real-life photos of Harry Colebourn and Winnie. 

Author Q & A

I had an opportunity to speak with Sally M. Walker, the author of Winnie about her new book. Here’s what she had to say.

Lisa Evans: When did you become aware that the iconic literary figure was based on a real life bear?

Sally M. Walker: It wasn’t until three years ago that I learned that Winnie-the-Pooh was inspired by a real bear. I heard a lecture, given by a mystery writer. She casually mentioned that many Canadian veterinarians served during the war and took care of horses used on the battlefield. She went on to say that one of them, Harry Colebourn, had donated a bear from Canada to the London Zoo, and that she inspired A.A. Milne to write Winnie-the-Pooh. At that point, I knew I had to find out if that was true!

Why did you decide to turn the history of Winnie the Pooh into a children’s book?

Winnie’s story totally captivated me. I love history and I love true stories. The two topics blended naturally into a compelling story. After all, how thrilling is it to discover that an animal you love—Winnie-the Pooh—was, once upon a time, a real bear?

What do you hope that children can learn from reading Winnie’s story?

I hope that children, especially, will begin to realize that history holds many interesting stories. We just have to take the time to find them.

How did you research Harry Colebourn’s relationship with the famous bear?

I borrowed a microfilm copy of Harry’s diary from the Archives of Manitoba. After reading it, I went to London, England, and visited the London Zoo. There, I read the Winnie files and the Zoo’s daily log. They contain many documents about Harry and Winnie. For example, Harry’s son, Fred, wrote many letters about his father and Winnie. He knew their story should be remembered. Winnie was so extraordinarily gentle. While much of that had to be part of her personality. I am sure Harry’s kind treatment of her affected her future relationships with humans.

A UK survey named Winnie the Pooh the most beloved children’s book of the past 150 years and he came in second to Anne of Green Gables’ Anne Shirley in CBC Books’ Great Canadian Character Showdown. Why do you think the bear became such a literary legend?

When my sister and I were children, we had hundreds of imaginary adventures with our stuffed animals. My two children did the same with their toys. Any adventure that children share with an animal becomes extraordinary. And I think we all recognize a little bit of ourselves in Pooh’s bumbling character.

What is your favourite memory of reading Winnie the Pooh as a child?

As a child, I thought honey looked like glue and was probably nasty. I ONLY tasted it because Winnie-the-Pooh ate it! (I like maple syrup better.)

This past Christmas, I had the pleasure of reading my book about Winnie to my two-year-old grandson, Donovan (to whom the book is dedicated). He loves Disney’s Winnie-the-Pooh and sings about Winnie in the tree top. He also likes honey. So far, he likes the real pictures of Winnie and Harry the best. That and the part in the book where Winnie and Harry go on the ship. We’ll see how that changes as Donovan grows up.