Author Lindsay Mattick shares her connection to Winnie-the-Pooh and how we can use the beloved character to teach our kids about World War I.
There are very few happy endings that come out of stories surrounding WW1, but the book Winnie's Great War is an exception. As a follow-up novel to Finding Winnie, Toronto-based author Lindsay Mattick tells a true story about how her Grandfather set off to war alongside a bear named Winnie, who inspired the character Winnie-the-Pooh that we know and love today.
As Remembrance Day approaches, we chatted with Mattick about her latest children's book that focuses on love, self-sacrifice and bravery in the context of conflict.
What is your connection to Winnie-the-Pooh?
When the first world war broke out in 1914, [my Great Grandfather Harry Colebourn] enlisted with a Winnipeg regiment to look after the cavalry units. En route to war, they stopped in a little town and there was a trapper selling a bear cub. My Great Grandfather bought this cub, named her Winnipeg, Winnie for short, and took her on his journey across the Atlantic.
When they had to go to the frontlines, he realized that Winnie needed a new home and decided to bring her to the London Zoo. He had no idea how long the war would last, of course it lasted four years, and at the end of the war he realized that she had a new home and he donated her to the zoo. While she had lots of visitors, one, in particular, was A. A. Milne–and his son Christopher Robin. Milne took some inspiration from, I think not only watching his son have a friendship with a bear, but his son actually renamed his stuffed bear from Edward to Winnie. So that's where the name Winnie-the-Pooh came from.
How did you discover your Great Grandfather's story?
I have a memory of my Grandfather, Harry's son Fred, showing me my Great Grandfather's diary and opening the page to August 24, 1914, the entry where he had recorded that he bought Winnie, this bear, for $20. It was pretty unbelievable to have this moment in history captured. I just knew that it was a really big deal.
How does Winnie's Great War relate to WW1?
It comes out of WW1. Harry would never have bought Winnie had he not been going to war. We knew he was a veterinarian and loved animals, who knows, potentially there could've been another story that fell out of his love for animals but certainly this particular encounter would not have happened had he not been going off to war. And I think the fact that it's this beautiful love story that comes out of what was a devastating period of Canadian military history is pretty remarkable.
Do you have advice for teaching children about WW1?
The stories that kids, even from a really young age, ask me are amazing. They want to know: What happened? Why do people go to war? What is the role of the soldiers? Who won the war? Why does this happen? Those questions are really what lead me to write Winnie's Great War. So many of them are growing up with this understanding of war, peace and conflict and I think the beauty of Winnie's Great War is that it allows us to explore a lot of themes that are really important to take from the first world war. As far as how you teach kids about war, I think giving kids a little more credit than we do is important.
You wrote Finding Winnie, what inspired you to create a follow-up book?
There was a real appetite from an older audience to understand more about the story. It's really kind of interesting for me personally because I feel like my son and also my friends whose kids have the book are growing along with it. They're starting to be more sophisticated readers and thinkers and I think that the novel gives them a way to take a story that they already know and love and get so many more ideas from it which is what we're able to do with Winnie's Great War.
Will we hear more stories about Harry and Winnie in the future?
I hope so. I definitely think that there's more to tell about this story because there are lots of iterations of it.