Some stories are so amazing they seem like they must be fiction, and then we find out they are not. This is especially true when the story is a picture book because we are so programmed to think only photographs show what is true. “Finding Winnie: The True Story of the World’s Most Famous Bear” by Lindsay Mattick, illustrated by Sophie Blackall is one such book. The illustrations are ink drawings completed with watercolor and capture Winnie and Henry in a delightful way, but we must keep reminding ourselves that the story is true. The book won the Caldecott Medal in 2016 and Sophie won a second medal in 2019 for her book, “Hello Lighthouse.”
Lindsay is telling her son, Cole, a bedtime story. He asks for a true story about a bear and Lindsay has one ready. It is about Henry Colebourn who was a veterinarian from Winnipeg. Henry is a very caring veterinarian and joins the Canadian Army to take care of soldier’s horses during World War I. At the White River train stop, the troops get out to stretch their legs and Henry sees a trapper sitting on a bench with a baby bear. Henry worries that the baby bear will not receive good care and so after much consideration he offers the trapper $20 for the bear. $20 was a lot of money in those days and the trapper agrees so Henry and Winnie get on the train together.
The troops are captivated by her and Henry names her “Winnipeg, Winnie, for short” so they “will never be far from home.” Winnie travels on a ship to England but when the order comes to fight, Henry knows Winnie cannot come. He takes her to the London Zoo where she finds a good home.
A boy with a stuffed bear that needs a name visits the London Zoo and sees Winnie. He visits Winnie often and eventually is allowed to play with her. He names his stuffed bear after Winnie and calls him Winnie-the-Pooh. His father, A.A. Milne wrote about all the adventures that Winnie-the-Pooh and Christopher Robin had in the Hundred Acre Wood.
That is not the end of the story though, for Cole, who is enjoying his bedtime story very much, learns that Henry was his great-great grandfather and that he is named for him.
This lovely little story includes a photo album in the back with photographs of Henry and Winnie and of the statue that was created commemorating their adventure that anyone can see in Winnipeg and London. Winnie died at the Zoo in 1934.
I especially appreciated the dedication at the beginning of the book: “For Cole. May this story always remind you of the impact one small, loving gesture can have.” All of our stories do have an impact – one decision can have far-reaching effects for generations.