Winnie: The True Story of the Bear Who Inspired Winnie-the-Pooh

by Sally M Walker (Author) Jonathan D Voss (Illustrator)

Reading Level: 2nd − 3rd Grade

Who could care for a bear?

When Harry Colebourn saw a baby bear for sale at the train station, he knew he could care for it. Harry was a veterinarian. But he was also a soldier in training for World War I.

Harry named the bear Winnie, short for Winnipeg, his company's home town, and he brought her along to the training camp in England. Winnie followed Harry everywhere and slept under his cot every night. Before long, she became the regiment's much-loved mascot.

But who could care for the bear when Harry had to go to the battleground in France? Harry found just the right place for Winnie while he was away -- the London Zoo. There a little boy named Christopher Robin came along and played with Winnie -- he could care for this bear too!

Sally Walker's heartwarming story, paired with Jonathan Voss's evocative illustrations, brings to life the story of the real bear who inspired Winnie the Pooh.

Kirkus Reviews

Ideal for Winnie-the-Pooh fans, this clear, straightforward biography reveals the bear behind the tale.

School Library Journal

Gr 1-2--Readers will be captivated by this picture book account of the bear who inspired the "Winnie-the-Pooh" series. Walker tells the story of Harry Colebourn, a World War I soldier who came upon a man selling a baby bear at a train station (he had shot the cub's mother) and decided to adopt the animal. A veterinarian, Colebourn quickly became attached to the little bear he named Winnie (short for Winnipeg, Manitoba, Colebourn's company's hometown), who accompanied the soldier to a training camp in Quebec and became a favorite of the entire regiment. Winnie even went with the company to England when more soldiers were needed across the Atlantic. When Colebourn was sent into battle, he took Winnie to the London Zoo, where she was so gentle and tame that zookeepers sometimes let children ride on her back. There, Milne's young son, Christopher Robin, met her and fell in love, motivating Milne to pen the "Winnie-the-Pooh" books. Sweet, realistic illustrations, rendered in watercolor with pen and ink, lend the work an old-fashioned air, while a simple but gentle narrative provides readers with a sense of the emotional connection between Winnie and Colebourn. Back matter offers brief material on Colebourn, Winnie, black bears in general, and Milne's writings, as well as photographs of Winnie and Christopher Robin. Children will enjoy this interesting insight into the real story behind a beloved bear they already know so well.--April Sanders, Spring Hill College, Mobile, AL

Copyright 2014 School Library Journal, LLC Used with permission.

Publishers Weekly

Walker (Freedom Song) provides a concise, affecting account of the story behind the bear that sparked the creation of Winnie-the-Pooh. The heart of the story is the relationship between Winnie (short for Winnipeg) and Harry Colebourn, a WWII Canadian Veterinary Corps soldier who impulsively bought the young orphaned bear at an Ontario train station. Making a memorable debut, Voss highlights Winnie's playful personality, as well as the close bond between her and Colebourn (an especially sweet sequence shows Winnie digging through the soldier's uniform as they play her favorite game, "hide-and-seek biscuits"). Subtle sepia tones give the nostalgic pen, ink, and watercolor illustrations the feel of period photographs (actual period photos are also included). When Colebourn ships out to care for wounded horses in France, he finds her a new home at the London Zoo. This bittersweet separation has a gratifying resolution: Winnie easily adjusts to life among the other bears and makes friends with young zoo visitors--including the son of A.A. Milne, whose books made Winnie a celebrity in her lifetime. Ages 4-8. Illustrator's agent: Catherine Drayton, Inkwell Management. (Jan.)

Copyright 2014 Publishers Weekly, LLC Used with permission.

Review quotes

Praise for Blizzard of Glass —An ALA Notable Children's Book

* "Riveting." —Kirkus Reviews, starred review

"Why haven't children heard this story before?" —The New York Times Book Review

"[Walker's] consummate gifts as a storyteller . . . breathe life into the tale." —The Horn Book

"This tragic but well-told story belongs in most collections." —School Library Journal

This book is awesome

I love books that inspiers pepole

Sally M Walker

Sally M. Walker is the author of the ALA Notable Blizzard of Glass: The Halifax Explosion of 1917. She is also the author of Written in Bone, Fossil Fish Found Alive, and Secrets of a Civil War Submarine, which was awarded a Sibert Medal. She lives in Illinois.

Jonathan D. Voss was a portrait artist and graphic designer before becoming a children's book illustrator. He lives in North Carolina with his family. Winnie is his first book.

Lexile Measure
Guided Reading Level
Henry Holt & Company
Publication date
January 20, 2015
Buckaroo Book Award
Nominee 2015 - 2016

Subscribe to our delicious e-newsletter!