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In 1914, a Canadian veterinarian on his way to treat World War I battlefield horses got off his train on a platform in White River, Ontario, and saw a bear cub. Actually, it was a bear cub tied to a string, held by a trapper. Against his better judgement, the vet bought the bear for $20 and re-boarded the train.
He named the bear Winnie, after his native Winnipeg, and continued to the east coast of Canada, where he boarded a ship — with Winnie and his new regiment — to England.
The bear stayed with him, becoming a regiment mascot, through months of battlefield training in miserable weather. But when the time came to deploy to France, he realized that Winnie would not be safe. He brought her to the London Zoo, which agreed to care for Winnie for the duration of the war.
That real-life bear, represented in statues in London and Winnipeg, as well as in historical photos and documents, is the one now known as Winnie the Pooh. And as readers find out in Canadian author Lindsay Mattick's new picture book "Finding Winnie: The True Story of the World's Most Famous Bear," there really was a Christopher Robin too! Mattick, it turns out, is the great grand-daughter of that Canadian veterinarian and knew her family's story needed to be told.
“At some point, I knew I was going to have a child and I thought, there was no better way to explain to them this amazing family story than to do it as a picture book," Mattick tells Here & Now's Robin Young. "And so when I found out I was pregnant a few years ago, I basically had this nine month kind of deadline to take my first crack at writing a picture book.”
By Lindsay Mattick with illustrations by Sophie Blackall
Winnie was in the army now. Harry taught her to stand up straight and hold her head high and turn this way and that, just so!
Soon, she was assigned her own post. Even the Colonel agreed that Winnie was a Remarkable Bear. She might have been the best navigator in the whole army.
If you hid something, could she find it? She could! What if it was father away? And farther still? “Remarkable!” he cried.
Excerpted from the book FINDING WINNIE: THE TRUE STORY OF THE WORLD'S MOST FAMOUS BEAR by Lindsay Mattick. Copyright © 2015 by Lindsay Mattick with illustrations by Sophie Blackall. Published by Little, Brown Books for Young Readers. Used by permission of the publisher.
This story aired on November 4, 2015.
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