Teddy bears are one of the most popular having provided cozy cheer for children around the world for more than one hundred years. This adoration has extended to bears as beloved characters in literature, timeless and classic in providing endless hours of enjoyment. Winnie: The True Story of the Bear Who Inspired Winnie-the-Pooh (Henry Holt and Company, January 20, 2015) written by Sally M. Walker with illustrations by Jonathan D. Voss supplies readers with a remarkable set of events which set in motion a tale that has indeed endured.
When Harry Colebourn looked out of the train window, he couldn't believe what he saw: a bear at the station!
During the train's short stop Harry met the man holding the bear's leash. The cub introduced herself to Harry by climbing into Harry's lap. Before the train continued its journey, for the price of twenty dollars, Harry was the bear's new keeper.
Full of soldiers journeying to a military training camp in Quebec, the train's newest passenger, named Winnipeg for the company's hometown, felt right at home. Winnie, her shortened name, followed Harry everywhere as he cared for the horses to be used in the war, World War I being fought overseas. In Harry's spare time Winnie enjoyed a rousing game of find the biscuit.
If Harry would go someplace Winnie could not, the other soldiers would gladly care for her during the day. When Harry slept, Winnie did too, underneath Harry's cot. A nearly collapsed tent taught Harry that Winnie needed to perfect her tree climbing skills.
When Harry and his company sailed to England with their horses and men guess who went with them on the ship? As the war continued to escalate Harry and his company were asked to go to France next. This time Winnie could not go. Winnie needed to be safe.
Placing Winnie in the London Zoo was the hardest thing Harry had ever done but this kindness changed the lives of Harry, Winnie and children everywhere, even today. She was so gentle she could be feed by spoon and children would sometimes ride her like a horse. After four years of service during the war another hard decision was made by Harry before he went home to Winnipeg. This second act of kindness allowed Winnie to live in the company of those who had cared for her deeply and a certain boy many years later to visit her.
Through research Sally M. Walker relates to her audience the chance encounter of a veterinarian soldier and an orphaned bear. She weaves her story together with single incidents and dialogue bringing readers into the lives of Harry Colebourn and Winnie in a very personal manner. The telling of their developing relationship parallels the developments in the war, each growing stronger. This builds to the decisions Harry makes in favor of what would be best for the bear. His commitment to doing the right thing opened up a huge literary door. Here is a sample passage from the book.
Harry's friends asked a million questions.
But the captain asked the loudest. "Harry,
what in the world were you thinking?"
"That I had to save her."
Debut picture book illustrator Jonathan D. Voss using watercolor and pen and ink brings an emotional depth to this story. When opening the matching dust jacket and book case readers can quickly see how loved and loving this bear is. We first see her in the arms of Harry Colebourn after he buys her at the train station. This is one of those moments when the pebble has been thrown with historic ripples beginning to fan outward. I like how Voss frames the text but places Harry and Winnie as if they are walking by it. On the back an interior image features children hugging Winnie at the London Zoo.
On a blue marbleized background the opening and closing endpapers serve as a photo album for real snapshots of Harry, Winnie, the train station, the company of soldiers, Winnie at the zoo, the receipt issued when Harry took Winnie to London and A. A. Milne and Christopher Robin. Beneath the title Voss has placed a smaller version of a picture of Harry with his arm around a larger Winnie. They are seated side by side with their backs to us.
Each picture softly bleeds into the white space surrounding it whether it spans across two pages, one page or is a series of smaller images portraying a single activity. Careful placement of the text never detracts from the images; our eyes are drawn smoothly from the text to the pictures or vice versa. A warm, subdued color palette of browns, golds, reds, greens, grays and pale blues allows us to easily step back in time.
Details on the uniforms, buildings, train, ship, military equipment, the London zoo and in Christopher Robin's room as his father tells stories add to the sense of us being a part of the events. The fully animated features on all the characters are eloquent. One of my favorite illustrations is a close-up of Harry sleeping soundly on his cot at the military camp. His arm is hanging over the side in exhaustion. Beneath the cot on his own bedding rests Winnie. They are both on their sides facing the readers. Night after night I sleep the same way with my hand reaching down to stroke Xena as she sleeps next to me. Voss really gets the connection between this human and the bear.
Winnie: The True Story of the Bear Who Inspired Winnie-the-Pooh written by Sally M. Walker with illustrations by Jonathan D. Voss is a poignant portrait of a man whose single act of kindness will live on in history for as long as we read A. A. Milne's stories. I know students in your classrooms, libraries and homes are going to love this book. And you're going to love reading it to them too. At the conclusion of the book is an author's note, list of sources, a website and a vintage video.
For more information about Sally M. Walker and Jonathan D. Voss please visit their websites by following the links attached to their names. This link to the publisher's website allows you to see eight other pictures from the book. For further information follow this link to Historica Canada to view a short video of what may have happened when Harry got Winnie and Christopher Robin first met Winnie. This link takes you to a video clip housed at the Zoological Society of London website about Winnie. Here are a couple of interesting articles: The History of the Teddy Bear: From Wet and Angry to Soft and Cuddly and A Point of View: The grown-ups with teddy bears. (This second one is fantastic.) This appears to be an excellent site about Winnie-the-Pooh, The Page at Pooh Corner.
This book was reviewed by Elizabeth Bird, New York Public Library's Youth Materials Collections Specialist, author and blogger at A Fuse #8 Production today. She lists other sources to view in connection with this title.
Once again I am thrilled to be participating in the 2015 Nonfiction Picture Book Challenge hosted at Kid Lit Frenzy by educator Alyson Beecher. Without this challenge I might never have read this excellent book.