A. A. Milne and Peter Dennis - Winnie-The-Pooh: The Color Edition

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A Sustaining Book to Help and Comfort a Wedged Bear

Jul 15, 2004
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Rated a Very Helpful Review

Pros:Milne's playful use of language, charming stories, memorable and loveable characters, Shepards' drawings

Cons:Young readers might be disappointed that Tigger doesn't appear in this collection

The Bottom Line: Tra-la-la, Rum-tum-tiddle-um-tum...if you're looking for a classic, this book is the one!


There are wonderful places in great literature that can feel so real that we often wish we could live there, or at least stay for an extended visit. Just a few of the fictional landscapes that I’d love to inhabit include Narnia, Middle Earth, Hogwarts, and Deep Valley. Recently added to my list is A.A. Milne’s Hundred Acre Wood, where Christopher Robin’s nursery friends come mysteriously and happily to life.

Somehow I missed Winnie the Pooh as I was growing up, and I’m beginning to think that my childhood was the poorer for it. I’m not a total Pooh novice; I knew the original Disney movies based on Milne’s books. But somehow I was never given “the real thing” and it has only been in recent weeks that I’ve begun to enjoy these delightful stories. I’ve been reading them aloud on car trips, and both my adult husband and my two-year old daughter seem to thoroughly enjoy them as well. Sometimes we laugh aloud!

I think almost everyone knows that in the 1920’s, A.A. Milne began writing down the imaginative stories he would tell his young son, Christopher Robin…and the rest, as they say, is history. The stories told of the exciting lives of Christopher Robin’s stuffed animals in the nursery, who lived another imaginative existence, as it turned out, in a friendly forest called the Hundred Acre Wood.

The original collection of ten stories, simply titled Winnie the Pooh (after the most loved animal in the nursery, Christopher Robin’s stuffed bear) begin and end with scenes of Milne talking with Christopher Robin about the stories. Milne uses the first person here to give the reader an intimate invitation to join their story-telling time: “He gave a deep sigh, picked up his bear by the leg and walked off to the door, trailing Winnie the-Pooh behind him. At the door he turned and said ‘Coming to see me have my bath?’ ‘I might,’ I said.” On rare occasion, Milne will even have Christopher Robin “interrupt” the narrative with curious questions. He does this so rarely it’s not intrusive; rather, it reinforces the notion that we’re eavesdropping on a family story time, or find ourselves part of the family.

Young readers who know Pooh from Disney film fame may be somewhat disappointed that Tigger (a big favorite nowadays…he’s even starred in his own movie) is not introduced in this first collection. Tigger doesn’t make his bouncing, pouncing entrance until the following book The House at Pooh Corner. But readers will be happy to get to know Pooh, Piglet, Rabbit (and his many friends and relations), Owl, Kanga, Roo, Eeyore, and of course Christopher Robin himself. Some of the stories will be familiar to those who know the definitely tweaked film versions: both Chapter 1 In Which We are Introduced to Winnie-the-Pooh and Some Bees, and the Stories Begin, and Chapter 2 In Which Pooh Goes Visiting and Gets into a Tight Place were reworked into the film episode known as Winnie the Pooh and the Honey Bees. Incidentally, the title of my review is taken from Chapter 2, when Pooh finds himself wedged in Rabbit’s hole after eating too much honey. During the ensuing days when he has to wait to lose enough weight to get out, he asks Christopher Robin to read him a “Sustaining Book, such as would help and comfort a Wedged Bear in Great Tightness” probably my favorite line in the entire collection.

Milne’s gift, besides a decided love for language (both descriptive and silly – he gets a lot of mileage out of words mistakenly pronounced, for instance, which makes the stories fun for grown-ups) is his ability to sketch characters in a few deft strokes. Pooh is a glutton, but a loveable one we can relate to, who never intends to eat as much honey as he does, and who does his morning stoutness exercises with good cheer. He’s also a poet, and a good bit smarter than most people (including himself) give him credit for, seeing as he’s usually described as a “bear of little brain.” Piglet is small and tends toward stuttering insecurities, especially when faced with new situations, but is a loyal and true friend with a real fondness for Pooh. Owl is a wise but rather long-winded talker with a propensity for big words that makes him a bit wearying at parties. Rabbit is a bit flighty, but good at “making plans” in times of adventure or great peril. Eeyore is – well, in the world of C.S. Lewis, one might describe him as Puddleglum, but I have to remind myself that the Hundred Acre Wood came before Narnia! Eeyore the donkey is perpetually gloomy, expecting the worst but often surprised by the gifts of friendship bestowed upon him. Kanga is a loving, maternal kangaroo and her baby Roo is simply an inquisitive toddler who wants to know “why?” about everything.

The original stories are accompanied by the wonderful illustrations of Ernest H. Shepard, whose drawings are more simple than the subsequent animation of the Disney films. The animation clearly owes a debt to the Shepard illustrations, but at times huge differences appear. Rabbit is particularly different…the original Rabbit looked like…well, a rabbit, not an animated talking bunny with big teeth. An interesting note…the Shepard family is well known in the history of English nursery stories as Ernest’s daughter Maria did the drawings for the original Mary Poppins tales.

Besides the stories already mentioned, this collection contains some other narrative gems, including Eeyore losing his tail, Pooh and Piglet almost meeting a Heffalump, and perhaps one of my favorites, when Chistopher Robin leads all of his animals friends on an “expotition” to the North Pole. It’s Pooh who actually finds it, but I won’t spoil the surprise of how.

I’m not enough of Pooh purist...yet…to say stick with the books and avoid the movies (and their attendant merchandise). I still have an affection at least for the early movies, and can’t really imagine the “voices” of the characters except in those original wonderful Disney voices. But I will say this: if your child has fallen in love with Pooh because of the movies or because of some of the dozens of lesser Pooh books written to accompany the movies, do yourself and your little one a favorite and buy a copy of the original. It’s still in print and easy to find, and can often be found used as well. I blush to say it, but I paid 63 cents for a paperback whose pages are starting to brown…I love the “used book” smell, and you can’t beat the price!





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