Finding Winnie: The True Story of the World’s Most Famous Bear
(2015), a children’s book by Lindsay Mattick, tells the story of Mattick’s unique connection to the world-famous fictional bear, Winnie-the-Pooh, and the truth behind the bear which inspired this treasured character. It’s a picture book best suited to young readers. Mattick worked in public relations for many years before deciding to write a story of her own, and Finding Winnie
received numerous awards and widespread critical praise. It is her debut book.Finding Winnie
narrates a real-life bear’s story, which takes place during World War I. The book opens with a mother telling her young son, Cole, a bedtime story. She decides to tell him a true story for a change, and she picks a tale about a special bear. This is the same way that Mattick learned about Winnie.
The main character, Captain Harry Colebourn, is a veterinarian and loves animals. He’s compassionate and kind. However, it’s 1914, and World War I has put an end to his usual life. Although he’s Canadian, he’s called to serve cavalry units in Europe. He is not going to fight—he’s going to look after the soldiers’ horses. Knowing he is going to help animals makes this traumatic experience more bearable.
As he sets off for Europe, he passes the White River in Ontario. There he meets the little bear cub that will change his life. He spots a lone man with a bear, and he offers to buy it. He knows the man is a trapper and doesn’t have good plans for the bear. The man agrees because everyone needs money. Harry is from Winnipeg originally, and he decides to call the cub Winnie as a reminder of home.
He knows he’s taking Winnie into a dangerous situation, but he thinks it will be good for the soldiers to have their morale boosted. They won’t be on the front lines—they’re going to a base. Winnie shouldn’t be in direct danger. Additionally, Harry also knows how to look after a bear cub properly because of his training. The cub takes to him, and he sets off once again for the cavalry base.
When they arrive at the base, the soldiers are thrilled to meet Winnie. She becomes a unit mascot, reminding them of what they’re fighting for—peace and freedom. This helps them get through the tough times. Winnie fits right in with the unit and the horses don’t fear her. She hunts for hidden things in the fields and she’s a great navigator. She can also spot danger from far off because of her animal instincts. Everything’s going well—at least for a little while.
It’s not long before Harry needs to move once again. Everyone thought the War would be over quickly, but it’s obvious this won’t happen. Although Harry is doing a great job in Canada, he’s needed overseas on the front lines to care for horses directly injured in battle. Although Harry is sad to leave Canada, he’s not surprised, and he knows these horses need him.
What Harry also knows, though, is that he can’t possibly take Winnie to the front lines. It’s far too dangerous and he can’t watch over her all the time. There’s no way she’ll survive. He doesn’t know what to do, because he doesn’t want to release her into the wild. She probably won’t survive on her own because she’s now so used to humans. She doesn’t have social skills with other bears.
Instead, Harry can only think of one place to put her—a zoo. He takes her with him to London and leaves her in the care of London Zoo. He drives her there himself. This is a hard moment for them because Winnie doesn’t understand what’s going on and Harry is worried he won’t see her again. However, he doesn’t have a choice and he leaves her.
Winnie proves very popular with guests at London Zoo. When she has been there a while, a man called Alan Milne visits her exhibit. He brings his son, Christopher Robin Milne, with him. Christopher has a beloved stuffed bear which he’s had trouble naming. Nothing seems right for it. Alan wonders if visiting the bear at the zoo will help, and it does. As soon as Christopher sees Winnie, he knows this is the right name.
Winnie is a delightful bear and she takes to Christopher. He visits her more and more, and he’s allowed into the enclosure. He gives Winnie the love and care she used to get from Harry, and this inspires Alan.
This is how the fictional Winnie-the-Pooh got his name, and it’s the beginning of classic stories, which will endure for years. Mattick’s connection to Harry is crucial to the story. She is Harry’s great-granddaughter, and she wanted to inspire children with the background of their beloved fictional bear. Although it’s a picture book, Finding Winnie
has a message for everyone, whatever their age.