Awarded annually by the American Library Association, the Caldecott Medal is named for the nineteenth-century English illustrator Randolph Caldecott, and commemorates “the artist of the most distinguished American picture book for children,” and the winner for 2016, Sophie Blackall, was announced on Sunday, for her inspired work in the visual interpretation of Lindsay Mattick’s very interesting story, “Finding Winnie: The True Story of the World’s Most Famous Bear.” The narrative is close to home for Ms. Mattick since the gentleman soldier featured in the tale, Lt. Harry Colebourn, a young veterinarian with the Royal Canadian Army Veterinary Corps, is actually Mattick’s Great Grandfather.
One summer day, a little over one hundred years ago, Lt. Colebourn happened to have encountered a trapper who had custody of a little orphaned bear, which he purchased from that trapper for $20, and duly named him Winnipeg, in honor of his homeplace in Canada. The cub’s name was then shortened to Winnie, as he accompanied Lt. Colebourn to an encampment on the Salisbury Plains in England, where the little bear greatly enjoyed the attention of the Canadian soldiers in the regiment, where they were off-duty.
When he was called to active duty, Lt. Colebourn borrowed a friend’s car and drove the cub to London, where he was able to find a home for him at the London Zoo, where he lived happily and it was there that the author A. A. Milne and his young boy Christopher first encountered the bear, and having been given a bear of his own he named it in honor of Winnie.
Caldecott Medal Committee Chair Rachel G. Payne is the coordinator of preschool services at the Brooklyn Public Library, where she is in charge of the library’s early literacy program. She had high praise for the illustrations of Sophie Blackwell: “Children will be enchanted by Winnie’s journey from the forests of Canada to the pages of the Hundred Acre Wood. Blackall offers a tour-de-force of visual storytelling.”
As part of the centennial anniversary, the Library and Archives at Ryerson University in Winnipeg, Canada created an exhibition and a website with a great deal of background information, which includes the following:
“It was at the zoo in Regent’s Park that a young Christopher Robin Milne first saw the now-famous Winnie; he became so enamoured of her that he named his favourite teddy bear after her and obliged his father to take him for repeated visits to see her. Winnie was such a tame, gentle bear that on at least one occasion her keepers allowed Christopher into her pen to play with her and feed her condensed milk from a spoon. Inspired by his son’s love of Winnie—both the live and stuffed versions—A.A. Milne, already an established author who had never before considered writing for children, penned the verse from which the Winnie the Pooh character would grow: “A bear, however hard he tries,/ Grows tubby without exercise.” These lines were the opening of a poem entitled “Teddy Bear,” which was introduced to readers first in the humour magazine Punch then later included in Milne’s collection of children’s verse,When We Were Very Young (1924).
Teddy Bear would take his morefamiliar name in Milne’s most acclaimed work, Winnie-the-Pooh (1926), and would feature prominently in a second collection of poems for children, Now We Are Six (1927) and a second volume of stories, The House at Pooh Corner (1928). The four books, all beautifully illustrated by Ernest H. Shepard, that make up Winnie’s literary legacy have been translated into virtually every written language; one recent estimate put total sales figures for the books since their original publication at over seventy million copies.”