Finding Winnie: The True Story of the World’s Most Famous Bear / by Lindsay Mattick
Little, Brown & Co. ISBN 9780316324908
Winnie: The True Story of the Bear Who Inspired Winnie-the-Pooh / by Sally M. Walker
Henry Holt ISBN 978-0805097153
Grades PS-3 Ages 4-7 Rating: 5
Two recently published books tell the true story of the American black bear named Winnie and Harry Colebourn, a Canadian veterinarian — a story which inspired A. A.Milne’s Winnie the Pooh stories.
Veterinarian Harry Colebourn is on his way to England where he will tend to horses during World War I. En route, the captain rescues a bear cub and names her Winnie, after his Canadian hometown of Winnipeg. After traveling with Colebourn and becoming the mascot of his unit, Winnie is left at the London Zoo when Colebourn prepares to serve in Europe. Later Milne and his son Christopher Robin visit the zoo, forming a strong bond with Winnie, which in turn, inspires the Pooh stories.
Lindsay Mattick tells the story of her great-grandfather’s friendship with Winnie in her book, Finding Winnie. Mattick shares her family’s connection to Winnie by telling a bedtime story for her son Cole. Interjections from Cole are in italics sprinkled throughout the book (perhaps patterned after Christopher Robin’s voice interjected in Winnie the Pooh).
Winner of the 2016 Caldecott Award, Finding Winnie’s illustrator Sophie Blackall uses muted colors and rosy-cheeked characters to create a cozy book readers will enjoy. Its back matter resembles a family album with photos and memorabilia with typed captions below each. Sadly there is not bibliography to document the resources consulted. Still one knows that Mattick had access to the historical and family documents because of her involvement with the original exhibition in the UK.
Sally Walker’s Winnie is illustrated by Jonathan Voss, using watercolor with pen and ink, giving an old-fashioned feel to the book. Walker’s descriptive text provides the essentials of the story. There are photographs on its end pieces, as well as an author’s note with more information about Harry, American black bears, and A. A. Milne. Sources consulted and links to websites and vintage video are also included.
Although both books are written during World War I, neither focuses on Harry’s military life (no combat illustrations). If one looks closely at the Blackall’s illustrations (soldiers being shipped out and soldiers returning), one notices the war injuries on some soldiers.
Both are well-written — but the personal connection makes the Finding Winnie the stronger book, historically. Both books pair together nicely and would be welcome additions to libraries and readers of all ages.
Carol R. Gehringer
—reprinted with permission, Christian Library Journal, 2015.