|Sophie gets "the call"|
|Here I am with some of my fellow "Caldecrew;" our wonderful chair, Rachel Payne, is second from right in back.|
A quick recap of the story recounted in Finding Winnie: In the book, author Lindsay Mattick tells of the impetuous decision by her grandfather, a Canadian veterinarian by the name of Harry Colebourn, to purchase a bear cub for $20 as he was heading off to serve in World War 1. Harry brought the cub, which he named Winnie for his native Winnipeg, across the Atlantic with him and she was a mascot at his training camp in England. Before Harry and his unit left to fight in France, however, he realized that it would be best to leave Winnie behind at the London Zoo. It was there that a young boy named Christopher Robin Milne met Winnie and decided to name his favorite stuffed bear after her; his father, novelist A.A. Milne, immortalized the name in a book of stories about his son's bear, a book called Winnie-the-Pooh.
It's a rather incredible-but-true tale, and one that had been little known in the United States before the publication of Finding Winnie. But the story, made even more memorable with Sophie's stunning artwork, now has found a wide audience, thanks to the Caldecott Medal.
Six months after our committee chose Finding Winnie for the 2016 Caldecott Medal, Sophie formally accepted the award with a heart-tugging speech in which she noted that Winnie-the Pooh was the first book she bought with her own money: "It was an old, worn edition. A prop in my mother's antique shop. I read it in my secret spot under a table. I used to hide the book so no one would buy it. Eventually, my mother sold it to me for a dollar, and I polished the steps to earn the money.
"I had never known a book like it. A book with interjections and digressions and ponderings. One that meandered and backtracked, that bounced and hummed, that drew you in so close that you felt you were in the very forest itself, and at the same time allowed you to step back and see the actual form of a book. With characters so endearing you hated to leave them behind. So you didn't."
|Sophie's cover for the July-August Horn Book.|
Some of these connections are tangential, such as the fact that some of my first children's books were given to me by my mother's cousin, whom I called Aunt Priscilla. She worked for a Boston-based publisher named Little, Brown. Guess who published Finding Winnie? Yep that's right --Little, Brown, now based in New York.
Here's another, more direct connection. I had somehow never read Winnie-the-Pooh as a child, yet because my sister, seven years younger than I, was passionately attached to the Disney version of the Milne books, I certainly knew of the character.
But it wasn't until I was in my late 20's that I first read the "real" Winnie-the-Pooh. My husband and I were spending the day in Savannah, Ga. and stopped in at a bookstore called The Book Lady. There my husband spotted used hardback copies of Winnie-the-Pooh and The House at Pooh Corner, books that he had loved as a child. Astounded that I had never read them, my husband bought them on the spot and we read them aloud, a chapter at a time, when we returned home. They became instant favorites of mine, and I've re-read them numerous times since then.
Today, in yet another rather amazing connection, our son now is a student at the Savannah College of Art and Design and he lives just a block from The Book Lady. My husband and I love to visit Savannah, and The Book Lady is a must-do destination each time. (And I still have wonderful memories of reading Winnie-the-Pooh aloud to my son who was both charmed and calmed by the stories.)
One final -- and very direct -- connection to Winnie-the-Pooh: in the early 1980's, I was working as a Washington correspondent for The Albuquerque Tribune, a paper owned by Scripps Howard. The main company had just formed the DC-based Scripps Howard News Service and was scrambling for copy to put out on its wire. While I enjoyed covering politics for the Trib, I really wanted to write national features for the news service. First, however, I had to convince the editors to create that beat.
|Elliott Graham and the original Winnie-the-Pooh|
To persuade them, I decided to write a few features in my own time, and one of them relates directly to Winnie-the-Pooh. I had read about the fact the real Winnie-the-Pooh and his stuffed companions resided (at that time) in a New York publishing house and so, the next time I visited New York, I set up an appointment to see them. I also got to meet their human companion, a lovely man named Elliott Graham who actually chaperoned Winnie-the-Pooh on visits around the country.
My article on Pooh and Elliott went out on the Scripps wire and got picked up by newspapers across the country. While I never did convince my bosses to start a national features beat, the Pooh article inspired me to create a weekly children's book review column for Scripps Howard News Service. I wrote that column for 23 year until the news service was ended in 2013. This blog is the successor to that column, and now here I am, once again writing about Winnie-the-Pooh -- only this time in my second-career persona as a children's librarian, and incredibly proud member of the 2016 Caldecott Committee!
One final note: a mega "Thank You" to my fellow "Caldec-crew" members and our incredible chair, Rachel Payne. I've definitely gained 14 wonderful new friends through our work together as a committee. And, of course, a big "Hurrah!" to Sophie for creating such extraordinary illustrations in Finding Winnie. As Sophie put it so beautifully in her Caldecott acceptance speech: "To the 2016 Caldecott committee: we are forever connected, you and I. You are my committee and I am your medalist." Indeed.