Wednesday, July 1, 2015

The Natural World of Winnie-the-Pooh by Kathryn Aalto

If you remember Winnie-the -Pooh from your childhood, or the childhood of someone dear to you, with fondness, then The Natural World of Winnie-the -Pooh by Kathryn Aalto is good for a relaxing, nerve-calming read. In the book she relates the career of A. A. Milne, author of two Winnie-the-Pooh books as well as many other books and plays. Aalto also tells of the collaboration of Milne and artist E. H. Shepard whose iconic illustrations created visual memories to accompany the classic stories.

Aalto goes on to talk about the origins of the stories, many based on elements from the childhood of Milne's son Christsopher Robin, namesake of the boy in the Pooh books. The real Christopher Robin's rambles in Ashdown Forest near the Milnes' home inspired the Hundred Acre Wood of the books. Aalto takes the reader from location to location in Ashdown Forest, telling of its history and geography as well as likely connections to the settings of the dwellings and adventures of Pooh, Piglet, Owl, Rabbit, Eeyore, Kanga, Roo and Tigger. The last portion of the book deals with the flora and fauna of the forest.

The Winnie-the -Pooh books continue to remain top best-sellers. The Natural World of Winnie-the-Pooh is a lovely companion. It has many photographs as well as illustrations. In the pre-publication advance reader copy the photographs are all in black and white. When published in September 2015, most of the photographs will be in color. Aalto, overall, does a good job. My only criticism is that she is a little repetitious. I think there is too much material related to the game of Poohsticks, a simple game from one of the Pooh stories.

There is a popular idea that similar things often happen in threes. My reading of this book was a part of such a grouping. Just before picking out this title from the advance reader book cart at my local library, I was reading cartoonist Bill Watterson's Exploring Calvin and Hobbes - An Exhibition Catalog. In it he describes a wooded area behind his childhood home in Ohio. While he denies being any Christopher Robin, he does fondly speak of his own woodland rambles and the freedom they made him feel. Certainly the Calvin and Hobbes cartoons often had their own woods and adventures in them, with Calvin a more zany, roguish six-year-old than Christopher Robin and Hobbes perhaps more philosophical than Tigger.

At the same time I was reading Watterson's book, I was dealing with some writings of my own. They involved an old newspaper clipping about a three-acre woods in Virginia. Curiosity about the status of the woods twenty-four years after the article was written led me, via the Internet, to come in contact with a gentleman who is a master gardener and certified Virginia naturalist. He has been using the 3-acre woods as a resource to educate over 13,000 local school children about the marvels of nature, its plants and critters. With the appearance of Aalto's book on the library's cart, I had an unplanned set of three - three woods, three connections with childhood woodland experiences. What a delight - tiddely-pom.

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