The Life and Times of the Real Winnie-the-Pooh: The Teddy Bear Who Inspired A.A. Milne
Pelican Publishing (2011)
Reviewed by Joseph Yurt for Reader Views (9/11)
Winnie-the-Pooh – the name alone immediately stirs our memories with its mere mention. For some of us, childhood tag-along adventures among the Hundred Acre Wood, in one or more of the four A. A. Milne books, in the company of Christopher Robin, Pooh and piglet, Tigger, Kanga, Owl, Rabbit and Eeyore were the times of your life. And no matter what you felt as a child, or how you feel now as a grown-up, he was, after all, just a fictional toy bear. But, in her new book, “The Life and Times of the Real Winnie-the-Pooh: The Teddy Bear Who Inspired A.A. Milne,” author and passionate Pooh historian Shirley Harrison, presents a charming, factual account which delightfully declares that, on the contrary, the iconic stuffed bear was indeed much more than we would have ever imagined.
Harrison’s fun bio book surprises us from the start with a treasure trove of Pooh Trivia. To begin with, the reader learns that in 1962, the author and her husband moved to the Sussex village of Hartfield, England. The village was situated on the fringes of Ashdown Forest. Despite her affection for the Pooh books, Harrison did not know at the time that Hartfield had been the home of Winnie-the-Pooh author A.A. Milne, his wife Daphne, their son Christopher Robin and the no-name teddy bear who would eventually become Winnie-the-Pooh. Harrison writes, “I was not alone, for although those books were loved by children and grown-ups all over the world, very few knew, even then, that the stories were about real people, and real toys, or that Pooh’s forest was a real forest.”
The book in its entirety makes the reader feel as if they might have been invited by Harrison for tea and time for stories of Pooh told warmly and affectionately by her. Her tidy ramblings begin with a fascinating history of European toys, pre-teddy bears, (the origin of the name teddy bear is another surprise) leading up to Pooh’s birth in 1921 and right through to 2011, the little teddy’s 90th birthday! Yes, Christopher Robin Milne’s threadbare teddy bear, that long ago traveled across the Atlantic and eventually became a U.S. citizen, is still with us. Harrison confirms that “he resides in the Children’s Center on 42nd Street in New York. Adults and children press their noses to the glass of his retirement home and write their thoughts in the visitor’s book.”
I still have a copy of a map of the Hundred Acre Wood, rendered by Pooh illustrator E.H. Shepard. I loved the relationship between Christopher Robin and Pooh dearly as a child, and I have continued loving them and all of their friends throughout adulthood. Yet, just as Harrison predicts at the outset of her wonderful, true story in “The Life and Times of the Real Winnie-the-Pooh,” I realized I never truly knew them. Now, knowing what I know, I feel like the Cheshire Cat; I can read all four books over again with a whole new perspective. I recommend a place be made for this title along-side the Pooh books in every family’s home library. And I would urge the author to strongly consider a children’s version to nurture the next generation of Pooh parents!