The True Story of the World’s Most Famous Bear
Written by: Lindsay Mattick
Illustrated by: Sophie Blackall
Winnie-the-Pooh—the whimsical name that reminds children and adults everywhere of the silly, lovable bear who loved to dip his paw into pots of honey, have fun with his pals in the 100 Acre Wood, and spend time with his special friend, Christopher Robin. However, before Winnie-the-Pooh, there was a real bear named Winnipeg, and SHE was the inspiration behind author A.A. Milne’s famous stories. This delightful picture book tells the true tale of how Winnie-the-Pooh came to be.
In 1914, a young Canadian veterinarian named Harry Colebourn left his home in Winnipeg, Canada to travel overseas. The Great War (World War I) had begun in Europe, and Harry enlisted. He would be caring for the soldiers’ horses and doing his part to help with the war effort. When he reached the train station, he noticed a trapper with a bear cub. Something about the little cub touched his heart, and after much deliberation, he offered the trapper $20 for her. In 1914, $20 was A LOT of money. Nevertheless, the deal was sealed. Now Harry had a baby to tend to and a long trip ahead of him to boot. But he couldn’t just leave her behind! So Harry named the cub Winnipeg—Winnie for short—and boarded the train with her in his arms.
Winnie was a remarkable little bear, and she charmed the soldiers at each camp in Canada where Harry was stationed before he was sent overseas. She also proved how smart she was! And when the time came for Harry to get on the ship bound for England, she boarded the ship as well.
When they reached England, Winnie earned her position as mascot, and again, the soldiers loved her. She was even in the pictures with the men of the camp. But of course, bear cubs grow into big bears, and Harry knew the day was coming when he would have to make a decision about Winnie’s future.
That day came when Harry got orders to head to France where the real fighting was happening. It was time for him to do the job he’d come to do, and the front was no place for a young bear. So with a heavy heart, he drove Winnie to the London Zoo where she would be safe and cared for. Harry left Winnie and drove away, ready to fulfill his duty.
One day a man and his little boy visited the London Zoo. The boy and the bear became friends, and he even named his stuffed bear after Winnie. The boy’s name was Christopher Robin and his father was author, Alan Alexander (A.A.) Milne. Milne would go on to write stories about the boy and his bear, Winnie-the-Pooh, that would touch the hearts of children all over the world!
When the war ended, Harry Colebourn went back to the London Zoo. He saw how happy and loved Winnie was, so he decided she was right where she needed to be. He said goodbye and headed back to Winnipeg to continue his career as a veterinarian. He married and had a son, and that son had a daughter, and that daughter had a daughter named Lindsay.
Lindsay is the author of the Finding Winnie, and she wrote the story for her son, Cole, who was named for his great-great-grandfather, Captain Harry Colebourn. The true story of the world’s most famous bear is a delightful legacy for the whole family, and it all began with one small act of kindness. A young soldier decided to rescue a little bear cub named Winnipeg. He cared for her and ultimately found her a home where she would bring joy to many children for years to come.
And of course, the rest is history!
*Finding Winnie recently won the 2016 Caldecott Award, and the award is well-deserved. This picture book is sure to become a classic, and the author, Lindsay Mattick, great-granddaughter of Captain Harry Colebourn did a wonderful job bringing the story of Winnie and Harry to life. Sophie Blackall, the illustrator, also did a masterful job with the illustrations. Highly recommended!
For more information about Lindsay Mattick and the Finding Winnie project (including real life photos of Harry and Winnie), visit www.lindsaymattick.com.
For more information about the illustrator, Sophie Blackall, visit www.sophieblackall.blogspot.com. You can also read a four-part series about how she developed the illustrations for Finding Winnie.
It's Nonfiction Monday!