Sunday, May 29, 2016

Finding Winnie-           
The True Story of the World’s Most Famous Bear
By Lindsey Mattick
Illustrated by Sophie Blackall
Published 2015

Awards-2016 Caldecott Medal Winner… well as…Publishers Weekly Best Children’s Books of 2015, Picture Books; Horn Book Fanfare List: Best Books of 2015, Nonfiction; The New York Times Notable Children’s Books of 2015, Picture Books;  Booklist Best Picture Books of 2015; Booklist Lasting Connections, 2015;  ALA Notable Books for Children 2016, Younger Readers; New York Public Library’s 100 Notable Titles for Reading and Sharing 2015; Children’s Books 2016 Notable Social Studies Trade Books for Young People, K–2;  2016 CCBC Choices–Historical People, Places, and Events

Looking at the long list of awards Finding Winnie has racked up-there is no doubt that Finding Winnie is an excellent choice for a read-aloud, especially for grades K-2— and especially because of its connection to the development of AA Milne's character, Winnie-the-Pooh. 

What makes this particular version of the story poignant, is that it is written by the great-granddaughter of the man, Harry Colebourn, who originally found the black bear cub and named her ‘Winnipeg’ (later shortened to Winnie, of course.)

Being the ‘true story’—and it is—makes this book a wonderful example of a narrative non-fiction. It would be an excellent mentor text for older students-grades 5 and up-who may be learning the craft moves for this particular twist on informational writing. The story also effectively moves back and forth between modern times and long ago, adding flashbacks. This writer’s move is worth examining in this mentor text for students who are ready for it.

How would a writer weave storytelling with true, informational facts?  Finding Winnie is a perfect example!  At the end of the narrative, the author also provides readers with some wonderful, old family photos of Winnie and Harry Colebourn, Winnie sitting with the Canadian Regiment for which she was the mascot, and a photo of Christopher Robin Milne with Winnie in the London Zoo and with his father, author AA Milne, looking on. 

Students may want to also research beyond this story to how AA Milne came up with his ideas about Christopher Robin and Winnie-the-Pooh and connect that information to this story.

By the way—many educators that I have talked to about this book/story did not know of the actual true Winnie that served as the inspiration for AA Milne’s Winnie-the-Pooh.  

Did you?  ;-D

Book Talk
Finding Winnie starts out in modern times with a mother cuddling with her son at bedtime and the young boy begging to hear a story—the true story of ‘the bear’.

The mother begins to tell the story of a young Canadian veterinarian named Harry Colebourn who had a very special gift--a special way with animals.  He was eventually called to serve in the Canadian military in WWI. On his way to meet up with his regiment, he was at a train station when he saw an older man who looked like a trapper, with a bear cub. The trapper told Harry that the bear had lost his mother. Harry knew that the trapper would most likely mistreat the bear.

And even though Harry was heading to meet his army regiment and he knew in his head that he should walk away from this trapper and the bear cub, his heart told him to do something about it.

So he did. 

Some favorite lines: “Harry thought for a long time. Then he said to himself, “There is something special about that Bear.” He felt inside his pocket and said, "I shouldn’t.” He paced back and forth and said, “I can’t.” Then his heart made up his mind, and he walked up to the trapper and said, “I’ll give you twenty dollars for the bear.”

Whereas all the men in the regiment were thrilled to meet the bear cub, the colonel was not!  Harry had to do some fast talking, but was eventually able to convince the colonel to let the bear stay and be the regiment’s mascot. That is when Harry announced that her name was Winnipeg—named after their city from where the solldiers came. 

Winnipeg quickly became ‘Winnie’ and a favorite of all.  Harry trained her in many ways to behave and help out in ways that she could.  Soon the regiment was to be shipped to England to continue their training…..and somehow again, Harry managed to get permission to bring Winnie along, too.

Because of Harry’s veterinarian training, he was put in charge of the horses that would lead the regiment into battle.  Soon the regiment was preparing to leave for battle in France. Harry knew that it was no place for Winnie.  

Harry made arrangements for Winnie while he was to be gone.  He was able to place Winnie in the London Zoo, so that the zookeepers could watch over her properly until he returned.

**As a side story—while Winnie was at the London Zoo, a local author named Alan Alexander Milne (aka AA Milne) would take his son—named Christopher Robin Milne--to the zoo. Christopher Robin became friends with Winnie—and Winnie eventually became the inspiration for AA Milne’s character: Winnie-the-Pooh.

(It is so interesting to me how one story begins another!)

Harry Colebourn eventually did return to London after the war.  He saw how happy and content Winnie was in the zoo, so he left her there and returned to Canada with his story of Winnie, his memories and his photos.  Today at the London Zoo and in Winnipeg, Canada stand statues of Harry and Winnie.

Throughout the story—the little boy,(who happens to be name Cole after his great, great grandfather, Harry Colebourn), asks his mother questions and helps the story along.  The author used italics for the conversation between mother and Cole and normal font setting for the story she was telling.

Suggested Uses As a Mentor Text
Book Genre: Narrative Non-Fiction (historical)
Reading Workshop Strategies: Monitor and Correct,  Search for and Use Information, Summarize, Infer, Connect, Question, Boy Hook
Writing Workshop Strategies:  Informational Writing, Narrative Writing, Personal Narrative, Historical Informational Writing, Flashback

Lindsey Mattick’s Website:
Sophie Blackall’s Website:

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