Sing Ho! A Silly Old Bear Turns 90

antique-books-stacked

When I was One,

I had just begun.

When I was Two,

I was nearly new.

When I was Three,

I was hardly Me.

When I was Four,

I was not much more.

When I was Five,

I was just alive.

But now I am Six, I’m as clever as clever.

So I think I’ll be six now and for ever and ever.[1]

This October, one of the most beloved bears of all time turns 90 years old. Though he appears in earlier publications, fans prefer to celebrate the birth of Winnie-the-Pooh on October 14 as that is the date Winnie-the-Pooh was published.

To join in the festivities, here are a few things you may or may not know about a silly old bear.

  1. Winnie the Pooh was named after a real Bear named Winnipeg.

During World War I, Captain Colebourn of the 2nd Canadian Infantry Brigade – a veterinary unit – purchased a baby black bear from a hunter on his way to training. Colebourn named her Winnipeg after his hometown, but called her “Winnie” for short. Other members of his unit quickly feel in love with the mischievous bear and she eventually was named the unit mascot. When the regiment was sent to France, it was decided the Winnie would be taken to the London Zoo for safety. Winnie became a celebrity at the zoo and won the hearts of families so much that upon returning from war, Colebourn decided she belonged at the zoo.

If I were a bear,

And a big bear too,

I shouldn’t much care

If it froze or snew;

I shouldn’t much mind

If it snowed or frizz—

I’d be all fur-lined

What a coat like his![2]

A frequent visitor to Winnie was a young boy named Christopher Milne. He loved and admired Winnie so much that he named his favorite stuffed bear after her.

  1. Characters in these tales were inspired by real stuffed animals belonging to AA Milne’s son.

Growing up, AA Milne’s real life son – named Christopher Robin Milne – had several toy animals that he loved dearly: a kangaroo, a pig, a tiger, a donkey, and of course a bear. These toys inspired the characters of Kanga, Piglet, Tigger, Eeyore, and Winnie-the-Pooh. Pooh was given to Christopher Robin on his 1st birthday – a special gift from a famous store called Harrods. The bear came with the name Edward Bear before Christopher changed it. Milne found much inspiration from this bear and wrote a poem about Edward Bear before the name change, entitled Teddy Bear. In this poem, Pooh is known as Edward Bear and struggles with accepting his physical appearance.

A bear, however hard he tries,

Grows tubby without exercise.

Our Teddy Bear is short and fat,

Which is not to be wondered at.

He gets what exercise he can

By falling off the ottoman,

But generally seems to lack

The energy to clamber back.[3]

The poem continues and Pooh discovers other who struggle with their size. He soon becomes “proud of being short and stout.”[4] Today, one can view the toys that so inspired Milne at The New York Public Library.

  1. Christopher Milne struggled with “Christopher Robin.”

Christopher Milne had a complicated relationship with his father and the character of “Christopher Robin.” The popularity of the stories made it challenging for a young boy to grow into the person he wanted to be. Christopher Milne wrote that his childhood was exposed and immortalized in a way that made it impossible to be both the boy he was and the man he became.

So if I seem ill at ease posing as Christopher Robin this is because posing as Christopher Robin does today make me feel ill at ease. And if I seem to write most happily about the ordinary things that boys do who live in the country it is because this is the part of my childhood that I look back upon with the greatest affection. If I had been a different sort of person I would have felt it all differently and would have written a different book.[5]

In 1975, Milne published three autobiographical books about his life. The first of these, entitled The Enchanted Places, focuses on his childhood and his thoughts about the legacy of Winnie-the-Pooh.

  1. While most Americans think of Disney’s or Ernest Shepard’s depiction of Pooh, another popular version from Eastern Europe immortalizes Pooh differently.

Popular animated films about Pooh or Vinni Puh came out of Russia around 1970. However, this Pooh is different than the beloved image drawn by Ernest H. Shepard and later the artists at Disney. The bear is short and brown with dark brown ears, arms, and legs. He still loves honey and creating hums. Blogger Snarky Nomad wished to practice his limited Russian linguistic skills had this reaction:

How had I not seen this before!?!?! The adorable little bear, the simplistically rendered backgrounds, the crazily fun theme song of his own devising…I just can’t get enough. I was so thoroughly happy I found this. It didn’t help my Russian abilities at all (though eventually finding the subtitle versions was helpful), but I have since informed each and every person who mentions the topic of Russia or the Soviet Union or Winnie the Pooh.[6]

The series stays fairly true to Milne’s original stories, as Disney’s versions often do not. Though many of the other characters remain in this version, including Piglet, Eeyore, and Rabbit, several are missing, including Tigger and Christopher Robin.

  1. To celebrate Pooh’s 90th birthday, a special book was released.

Disney released a new book entitled Winnie-the-Pooh and the Royal Birthday to celebrate jointly the birth of Winnie-the-Pooh and the Queen, respectively. In this story, Christopher Robin suggests that they join in the festivities by giving her a present. After much discussion, an inspired Pooh improvises a poem or “hum” about the Queen.

The Queen lived in her palace, as Queens often do.

Doing all those busy things that busy Queens do.

But The Queen could never know, as you and I do,

That doing nothing much can be the BEST thing to do.

So from a forest far away, for your special day,

We’re sending you some quiet and a little time to play.[7]

The group agrees that Pooh’s “hum” is the perfect gift and with their joint skills they write the poem on a piece of paper and decorate it with flowers. Then, Christopher Robin, Pooh, Piglet, and Eeyore start their adventure from the 100 acre wood to Buckingham Palace to deliver their gift.

For me, Winnie-the-Pooh is more than just a beloved character. He’s the one I turn to – even as an adult when I feel lonely or in need a friend. Pooh knows what I mean to say when words escape me. Pooh reminds me of what is truly important after a long and frustrating day. For me and so many of my colleagues here at Boston Children’s Museum, Pooh is the embodiment true and pure love. For love is not something that you spell…it’s something that you feel.

Sing Ho! for the life of a Bear!

Sing Ho! for the life of a Bear!

I don’t much mind if it rains or snows,

‘Cos I’ve got a lot of honey on my nice new nose,

I don’t much care if it snows or thaws,

‘Cos I’ve got a lot of honey on my nice clean paws!

Sing Ho! for a Bear!

Sing Ho! for a Pooh!

And I’ll have a little something in an hour or two![8]

Join us in “singing ho!” for the birth of this beloved character that has touched the hearts of so many. Boston Children’s Museum will host a very special Story Time on Friday, October 14 to feature Winnie-the-Pooh. Check the calendar for details.

RESOURCES

Ashdown Forest. “Winnie-the-Pooh.” Accessed on 26 September 2016. http://www.ashdownforest.org/winnie-the-pooh/pooh.php

Colman, Dan. “The Original Stuffed Animals That Inspired Winnie the Pooh.” Open Culture. 24 January 2016. http://www.openculture.com/2016/01/the-original-stuffed-animals-that-inspired-winnie-the-pooh.html

Disney. “Winnie the Pooh.” Accessed on 26 September 2016. http://winniethepooh.disney.com/

Eveleth, Rose. “Happy Birthday Winnie-the-Pooh.” Smithsonian.com. 14 February 2014. http://www.smithsonianmag.com/smart-news/happy-birthday-winnie-pooh-180949756/

Fessenden, Marissa. “Russia Has Its Own Classic Version of an Animated Winnie-the-Pooh.” Smithsonian.com. 1 December 2014. http://www.smithsonianmag.com/smart-news/russian-version-winnie-pooh-different-also-classic-180953496/

Milne, A.A. Now We Are Six. New York: E.P. Dutton & Co., Inc., 1946.

Milne, A.A. The House at Pooh Corner. New York: E.P. Dutton & Co., Inc., 1960.

Milne, A.A. When We Were Very Young. New York: E.P. Dutton & Co., Inc., 1935.

Milne, A.A. Winnie-the-Pooh. New York: E.P. Dutton & Co., Inc., 1946.

Milne, Christopher. The Enchanted Places. New York: Penguin Books, 1977.

New York Public Library. “The Adventures of the REAL Winnie-the-Pooh.” Accessed on 26 September 2016. https://www.nypl.org/about/locations/schwarzman/childrens-center-42nd-street/pooh

Riordan, Jane. Winnie-the-Pooh and the Royal Birthday. London: Disney Enterprises, Inc., 2016.

Snarky Nomad. “The Russian version of Winnie the Pooh is the greatest thing in the universe.” 29 August 2016. http://snarkynomad.com/the-russian-version-of-winnie-the-pooh-is-the-greatest-thing-in-the-universe/

[1] A.A. Milne, Now We Are Six (New York: E.P. Dutton & Co., Inc., 1946), 102.

[2] Milne, Now We Are Six, 46.

[3] A.A. Milne, When We Were Very Young (New York: E.P. Dutton & Co., Inc., 1935), 85.

[4] Milne, When We Were Very Young, 91.

[5] Christopher Milne, The Enchanted Places (New York: Penguin Books, 1977), 19.

[6] Snarky Nomad, “The Russian version of Winnie the Pooh is the greatest thing in the universe”, 29 August 2016, http://snarkynomad.com/the-russian-version-of-winnie-the-pooh-is-the-greatest-thing-in-the-universe/

[7] Jane Riordan, Winnie-the-Pooh and the Royal Birthday (London: Disney Enterprises, Inc., 2016), 8.

[8] A.A. Milne, Winnie-the-Pooh (New York: E.P. Dutton & Co., Inc., 1946), 108.

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  1. Pingback: CENTRUM EDUKACJI NAUCZYCIELI w Gdańsku | Muzeum dla dzieci w Bostonie

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