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Friday, February 19, 2016

Finding Winnie: The True Story of the World's Most Famous Bear. Written by Lindsay Mattick and illustrated by Sophie Blackall. Harper.2015. $19.99 ages 4 and up

"Then he said to himself, "There is something special about that Bear." He felt inside his pocket and said, "I shouldn't." He paced back and forth and said, "I can't." Then his heart made up his mind, and he walked up to the trapper and said, "I'll give you twenty dollars for the bear."

Imagine yourself asking your mother for a bedtime story. Can you do it? Then, imagine that your mom decides that she will tell you a true story of her great-grandfather, a Canadian war veteran and veterinarian. Finally, imagine that on a trip across Canada by that great-grandfather, on his way to care for soldiers' horses in preparation for deployment to Europe, a fortuitous stop at a train station results in the acquisition of a bear cub.

That 'small, loving gesture' is at the heart of this lovely nonfiction book that will have young readers captivated and engaged from beginning to end. The veterinarian, Captain Harry Colebourn, affectionately names the bear Winnipeg in honor of his hometown. 'Winnie' is quickly adopted as a mascot for Harry and his fellow soldiers, winning hearts at every turn. The bond between the two is so strong that, when finally faced with making the ocean voyage to England, Harry decides to take Winnie with him.

Winnie thrives and brings great joy to the military men who love her. The orders come that the fight in France will soon begin. Harry realizes that his job there caring for the horses must take precedence. He  makes the difficult decision to take Winnie to the London Zoo where she will be safe and loved:

""There is something you must always
remember," Harry said. "It's the most
important thing, really. Even if we're
apart, I'll always love you. You'll always
be my Bear."

So, the story ends? Not by a long shot!

The ending to Harry and Winnie's story leads to another ... Mom tells Cole about Christopher Robin, his visits to Winnie at the London Zoo, and his father's stories about Christopher, his stuffed bear Winnie-the-Pooh and their many adventures.

Perhaps those will be the next bedtime stories Cole's mother shares.

There are many things to love about this book: the fact that it is a family story told with loving care, Cole's questions interspersed throughout that add charm and context, the beautifully, expressive watercolor artwork done by the distinguished Sophie Blackall to bring Winnie to glorious life through all parts of his life's journey, the family tree to help young readers understand the connection between the author and Captain Harry Colebourne, and the accompanying album of archival photos and artifacts that connect every element of this wonderful true story. It's a winner!

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