You never truly know the impact of one loving gesture.
This thought was echoed by Lindsay Mattick Winner of the 2016 Caldecott Medal ‘Finding Winnie: The True Story of the World’s Most Famous Bear’. Her great-grandfather Harry Colebourn was a veterinarian in the Canadian army. One day he encountered a trapper who had killed a bear in White River, Ontario. The killed mother bears cub was up for sale. Harry bought the cub for $20. He christened her Winnie after Winnipeg, the place he had emigrated to when he turned 18.
He traveled with Winnie to England, where he trained her; Winnie was loved by the cavalry regiment, Fort Garry Horse and she became an unofficial mascot for them. The advent of World War I, saw Harry leave for the war front. Before leaving, he left Winnie in the safekeeping of the London zoo.
Winnie was a big hit at the zoo with many admirers. Children were allowed to play with her. The good-natured bear often played with them. A boy named Christopher Robin was particularly fond of her and called his own stuffed toy Winnie. Christopher’s father was inspired enough to write about his son and his beloved stuffed toy Winnie and he called it ‘Winnie-the -Pooh’. A.A.Milne, Christopher’s father soon found his bear creation catapulted in the hearts of children worldwide.
Captain Colebourn visited the London zoo when he had leave and thought of taking her back. The overwhelming love of the children for Winnie made him change his mind. In 1918, Winnie was officially donated to the zoo, where she spent her days till she died.
The book traces the remarkable bond of love and friendship between Harry and Winnie. Illustrated by Sophie Blackall and written eloquently by Lindsay, Finding Winnie is a beautiful book that spreads the message that each act of kindness counts enormously.
The story starts with the author narrating a true story to her son Cole about her great-grandfather Harry. Lindsay recounts how Harry saw Winnie as a cub and after much thinking decided to buy her for a handsome $20. His colonel wonders but Winnie wins his heart. Soon, the regiment is taken up with Winnie. Winnie loved to eat everything except onions.She crossed the Atlantic with horses and men.
Nobody had ever tried to float so many people and animals across the Atlantic Ocean before.Thirty ships sailed together, carrying about 36,000 men, and about 7,500 horses…and about one bear named Winnie.
Winnie kept vigil on her regiment men as they trained in the very rainy plains of Salisbury.Harry is eventually called to the front and Winnie senses they are going to part ways. Harry tells her,
There’s something you must always remember. It’s the most important thing really, Harry said.Even if we’re apart I will always love you. You’ll always be my bear.
The book then begins another story about a little boy who loved his stuffed teddy bear, but couldn’t fix a name to him. He called Edward bear. Christopher’s meeting with Winnie at the London zoo, lead to his many adventures with his teddy bear who he called Winnie thereafter. The book says how the many adventures of Christopher and his teddy bear were written out by Alan Alexander Milne his father and how this led to the now immortal Winnie-the -Pooh stories being born.
Lindsay traces her family’s history and tells Cole her son how he was named after Harry Colebourn whose hands were always warm like sunshine and his heart full of love for the animals he tended, particularly his bear Winnie.
Lindsay Mattick, speaks about why she wrote Finding Winnie
Sophie Blackall and her team have taken enormous care with the illustrations, filling them with detail. She notes in her blog about Finding Winnie how she has contrasted the devastation the war caused. The many soldiers who had left Winnipeg to fight the war did not come back home. She shows this in her panels of Harry’s departure where you can see a full carriage and the panel of his return where the carriage is almost empty.
Her illustration of Canadian ships sailing to the war deliberately has a red background, denoting the impending war. The Canadian flag is minus its famous maple which made it’s debut in 1965.
Finding Winnie is as much about a bear as it is about legacies, kindness, stories and war. The winner of the Caldecott Award, 2016 -the American award for illustration in children’s books -had Caldecott Medal Committee Chair Rachel G. Payne say this about this book,
Children will be enchanted by Winnie’s journey from the forests of Canada to the pages of the Hundred Acre Wood. Blackall offers a tour-de-force of visual storytelling.
Two boys and their bears can live on forever, after all.