I am thrilled to be reading Finding Winnie with my students. The book is written by Lindsay Mattick and illustrated by Sophie Blackall and published by Little Brown Kids.
"Before Winnie-the-Pooh, there was a real bear named Winnie. In 1914, Harry Colebourn, a veterinarian on his way to tend horses in World War I, followed his heart and rescued a baby bear. He named her Winnie, after his hometown of Winnipeg, and he took the bear to war. Harry Colebourn's real-life great-granddaughter tells the true story of a remarkable friendship and an even more remarkable journey--from the fields of Canada to a convoy across the ocean to an army base in England...And finally to the London Zoo, where Winnie made another new friend: a real boy named Christopher Robin. Here is the remarkable true story of the bear who inspired Winnie-the-Pooh."
~from Hachette Book Group
This incredible book has earned a spot on my Mock Caldecott list. I am biased toward anything Winnie-the-Pooh, but even with this, I can say that this book deserves to be on my list. Here's a sneak peak from Little Brown.
The fourth and fifth graders read the book with our Caldecott criteria in mind:
Do these illustrations demonstrate excellence in the technique (collage, painting, wood carvings) employed?
Is the technique employed a good match for the mood, tone and themes in the story?
Are the illustrations critical to the understanding of the story?
Will the design of the book and the illustrations appeal to a child audience?
When looking at the criteria, I think Sophie Blackall's illustrations excel. They are excellent, appropriate, important and appealing. I love the color palate and style, both speak of the time period, tone and mood. Before one even gets into the books, the jacket and cover illustration set the stage. The jacket illustration grabs the readers' attention with a sweet little bear sitting on a pile of books. Flip the book over and a stuffed animal bear hangs gently from a young child's hands. We want to know these bears and how these stories connect. The jacket's softer illustrations give way to strikingly beautiful case art of silhouettes of soldiers marching across a field led by a proud little bear. Open the cover and the reader enters into a spring-like wood and our story begins.
The students liked how the album on the table and the owl on the bookshelf foreshadow what is to come.
The students pointed out how the light switch on the wall grounds them in the bedroom but also lets their imaginations travel into the (Hundred Acre) wood.
The students appreciated the detailed illustrations and historical accuracy of the uniforms, cars, trains, clothing, and hair styles. Even though the text establishes that the story takes place "about a hundred years before you were born," I asked if the students could tell which war Harry Colebourn was heading off to. They used the picture clues first to decide on WWI and then reinforced that supposition with the narrative about caring for horses at the front. We also talked about how Sophie subtly showed the reader little things like the time of year before they set sail to England (autumn because of the trees). This two-page spread connected by the train track drew quite a bit of conversation.
I can't go any further without talking about the story, which is heartfelt and beautiful. I did not always make the Winnie-the-Pooh connection for the students before I read the story, so it was fun to see their faces as the wave of understanding passed over. I loved sharing this book with the students and even after eight classes, got choked up reading the page when Harry brings Winnie to the London Zoo. The writing at times feels like an homage to A.A.Milne, such as this excerpt from the spread above, "The train rolled right through dinner and over the sunset and around ten o'clock and into a nap and out the next day..." This too feels Pooh-like, "Taking the treat [condensed milk] in her paws, Winnie lay on her back and hummed a happy song as she drank."
I could go on, but don't take it from me, here's what how the fourth grade students ranked the book using our criteria:
Fifth graders shared their thinking on this Padlet.
The fourth graders also used Telligami to share their reaction to the story (sorry for some of the audio quality):
Finding Winnie is one of those whole package books whose writing and art should be and will be read and explored time and time again.