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31 Jan, Tuesday
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Montreal Families

A new chapter for Winnie-the-Pooh

During World War I, troops from Winnipeg were transported to Eastern Canada on their way to Europe to join the 2nd Canadian Infantry Brigade. When the train stopped at White River, Ontario, a lieutenant called Harry Colebourn bought a small female black bear cub for $20 from a hunter who had killed its mother. He named her ‘Winnipeg’ after his hometown and soon after the bear’s name was shortened to Winnie.

Winnie became the mascot of the brigade and went to Britain with the unit. When the members of the brigade were posted to the battlefields of France, Colebourn sent Winnie to live at the London Zoo.

During this time, writer A.A. Milne and his son Christopher Robin encountered Winnie and were charmed by his big paws and burly tummy. Christopher named one of his stuffed teddies after the bear. Observing his son’s affection for his stuffed toy, Milne imagined the creature coming to life. He crafted a series of stories and poems that featured a jolly, befuddled bear that would do anything for a pot of honey. And thus Winnie-the-Pooh became part of legendary fiction.

Winnie and Christopher Robin’s adventures in the Hundred Acre Wood were first published in 1926 in the book Winnie-the-Pooh. In 1928, a sequel called The House at Pooh Corner was released and, in this book, Christopher Robin leaves the woods, bidding adieu to Winnie and his forest friends, Owl, Eeyore, Piglet and Tigger.

Since then, these classic books have continued to enchant readers, winning over millions of fans worldwide. Recently playwright David Benedictus decided he was going to write a sequel after he was granted permission from the Pooh trustee board.

Another sequel for Winnie

So Benedictus produced Return to the Hundred Acre Wood (Dutton Children’s Books, $25). In the book, Christopher Robin finally returns to his favourite forest — much to the delight of Pooh and his friends.

The question with any sequel, especially for such an enduring classic, is whether the author should try to completely emulate the original style or put his or her own mark on the transcript. In this case, Benedictus has done a bit of both and the illustrations by Mark Burgess closely resemble those of the original artist, E. H. Shephard.

When this new book begins, the forest animals are extremely excited about the anticipated return of Christopher Robin. They prepare a party in the middle of the woods, replete with jellies, a cake and gifts. This scene captures the original spirit of outdoor discovery that gave Milne’s stories so much charm. From the outset, Benedictus shows readers that they will not be meeting a 21st century Pooh, who will watch television or play videogames. He retains the era in which Pooh was created as the setting for his stories, when children found amusement playing among the trees in their backyards, making mudpies and having tea with their dolls in the garden.

Each adorable character is re-introduced by Benedictus describing what these creatures are up to (Owl is writing a book, for example).
Although authentic to the original book, Benedictus does allow Christopher Robin to grow up a little (for instance, in one chapter, the little gang has a spelling bee). He is merely showing the natural progression of a young boy who has begun school but still has a desire to spend time with his fuzzy friends.

Benedictus leaves his own mark with the introduction of a new character: Lottie the Otter. Although the need for a new character is questionable, Lottie is as lovable as the rest and is perhaps the author’s attempt to inject an extra female character into a relatively boy-dominated forest.

Overall, fans of Winnie-the-Pooh will enjoy this new book, as long as they keep in mind that ultimately it is not Milne who has written it or Shepard who has illustrated it. As with any sequel, it will rarely match the original. However, if it can capture the spirit that made fans love the stories in the first place, then Return to the Hundred Acre Wood will give parents a wonderful opportunity to re-discover Pooh and his friends all over again with their own children.

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