A Friend of the Heart: A Review of ‘Finding Winnie, the True Story of the World’s Most Famous Bear’

“As soon as I saw you, I knew a grand adventure was about to happen.” – Winnie the Pooh

Reading Level:  

K – Grade 3 [approximately]

 Grade Level Equivalent:

3.4 [The text could likely be read independently by a student whose reading  skills are at the level of a typical third grader during the fourth month of  school.]

Review and Comments:

‘Finding Winnie’ is a fascinating and true prequel to Winnie-the-Pooh and his familiar adventures. It is a story within a story that begins when a young boy named Cole asks his mother to tell him a true story about a bear – the authentic story of Winnie-the-Pooh.

The Beginning

Harry Colebourn is traveling across Canada on his way to serve his country during WWI.  When his train stops at a station he sees a man with a bear cub and that intrigues him.   He feels an immediate connection with the bear and wrestles with the pros and cons of taking on the responsibility of the bear. He finally buys her and names her Winnie after his home town of Winnipeg.

The Colonel and the men of Harry’s unit are won over by Winnie’s very special personality. Everyone recognizes what a truly remarkable bear she is.  Harry teaches her to stand at attention, turn right and left, and discovers she is a marvelous navigator. Eventually, the men, horses, and Winnie are loaded on ships for the voyage across the Atlantic Ocean. She becomes the Mascot of the Second Canadian Infantry Brigade.

The war is drawing near, and Harry realizes in his heart that Winnie cannot be part of the brigade any longer.  The danger is just too great so Harry takes Winnie to the London Zoo.  He has a heart to heart talk with her and tells her that he will always love her and that she will always be his bear.

Winnie’s Story Continues

Winnie thrives at the zoo because of the wonderful care she receives.  Many children come to see her and some actually enter her pen to play with her! One of these children is a little boy named Christopher Robin Milne. He visits Winnie many times and develops a personal relationship with her. Because Winnie is so unique, Robin decides to name his own very special, yet unnamed, stuffed bear, Winnie-the-Pooh.  He and his Winnie go on many, many adventures together.  His father, A. A. Milne, writes about these adventures – the stories of Winnie-the-Pooh.

And Finally

After the war Harry returns to Winnipeg.  He marries and had two children.  His daughter has a daughter and she has a son named Cole, named after his great-great-grandfather Harry Colebourn.  Cole loves to listen to true stories about bears.

This enlightening story adds a new dimension to the classic character, Winnie-the-Pooh.  It will definitely appeal to readers of all ages.  The different layers of the story may cause a bit of confusion for very young readers or listeners because it is not the typical Winnie-the-Pooh adventure.  At the end of the book, there are actual photographs of Winnie and a family tree of Harry Colbourn.  These visual aids help organize the material.

#1 New York Times Bestseller and Winner of the 2016 Caldecott Medal

Possible Concerns:

There are no concerns with this book.

Further Discussion:

  • There is a family tree in back of the book showing Cole’s family back to Harry Colebourn. [This will help the reader with comprehension.]
  1. Make a simple family tree showing parents, grandparents, and possibly great grandparents.
  2. Share a few family stories about the people included on the family tree.
  • Locate Canada on a world map.
  1. Identify continent; name provinces; locate Winnipeg
  2. Trace Harry’s route from Canada to England and to France
    1. The 2nd Canadian Division in 1914-1918 (Order of Battle-Canadian Divisions)

Catholic References:

  • Make Jesus’ family tree by making a Jesse Tree.
  1. Catholic Activity: Jesse Tree Instructions
  1. Our Jesse Tree

·        Prayer for the Safety of a Soldier:

Almighty and eternal God,
those who take refuge in you will be glad and forever will shout for joy.
Protect these soldiers as they discharge their duties.
Protect them with the shield of your strength and keep them safe from all evil and harm.
May the power of your love enable them to return home in safety, that with all who love them,
they may ever praise you for your loving care.
We ask this through Christ our Lord.  Amen.