Winnie Before the Pooh
Good fortune shone upon me when my library hold for Winnie’s Great War came up last week and I was able to enjoy this heartwarming tale right before Remembrance Day and the 100th anniversary of the WWI Armistice. Lindsay Mattick and Josh Greenhut weave us a beautiful tale in part true and in part fiction of the humble beginnings of the world’s most famous bear. We all know Winnie-The-Pooh who lives with his friends and Christopher Robin in the Hundred Acre Wood. Many of us even know Winnie came to the London Zoo by way of Winnipeg and Captain Harry Colebourn of the Canadian Army Veterinary Corps. But what about the story from Winnie’s perspective?
In Winnie’s Great War, Lindsay Mattick narrates Winnie’s backstory to her son Cole, named for Captain Colebourn his great, great grandfather. We start at the beginning when Winnie was just a cub, through her young life in the forest and the death of her mother at the hands of a trapper. We find out how Winnie came to be the mascot of the Canadian Army Veterinary Corps and what may have been her experience as a proud member of the Canadian military.
Although there is much sadness and hardship woven into the story, there is still so much hope. There is a thread running through the whole story about being helpful about trying to make people feel better. Winnie saw it as her duty in the story, as it was Harry’s duty to take care of the horses in his charge and make them feel better too. In the author’s note in the back we learn the pieces of the story based on factual events and which parts of the story are the author’s creation. I really love how this is the story of Winnie before she became Winnie-The-Pooh. There is very little reference to the stories by A.A. Milne and even to Christopher Robin Milne, they come right at the end. You catch glimpses of the Winnie we all know and love through the text. You know that Mattick and Greenhut were inspired by the Winnie-The-Pooh stories in some of the more subtle moments in the book.
Along with the writing, Sophe Blackall’s inspiring illustrations paint the picture of the time and give us relief from the at times emotional text. The illustrations inspire hope and kindness just as the text and both come together in this fantastic tale.
Winnie’s Great War is an excellent book to share with middle graders to give them a little bit of perspective about a war now 100 years in our past as well as some new information about the famous Winnie-The-Pooh. What a lovely way to remember and thank all of those who fought to preserve the freedoms we enjoy today.