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Finding Winnie: The True Story of the World's Most Famous Bear is a 2015 children's book written by Canadian author Lindsay Mattick and illustrated by Sophie Blackall. The non-fiction book is framed as a story Mattick is telling to her son. Her great-grandfather, Harry Colebourn bought a bear on his way to fight in World War I, donating the bear to a zoo where it became the inspiration for the character of Winnie-the-Pooh. Finding Winnie was thoroughly researched by both Blackall and Mattick. The book's writing and illustrations well reviewed and it won the 2016 Caldecott Medal.

Finding Winnie: The True Story of the World’s Most Famous Bear
Finding Winnie.jpg
AuthorLindsay Mattick
IllustratorSophie Blackall
CountryUnited States
PublisherLittle, Brown Books for Young Readers
Publication date
October 2015
Pages56 pp


Background and publicationEdit

Sophie Blackall agreed to illustrate the book, even though she was not planning to accept new book assignments, because she felt that her own story was like that of the bear Winnie.[1] In particular, Blackall, and the book's editor, both cited Blackall's decision to immigrate to New York just as Winnie would move from Canada to Europe.[1][2] Blackall also had an affinity for Winnie-the-Pooh, as the book was the first she ever bought with her own money.[3] Author Lindsay Mattick loved hearing the story of her great-grandfather as a child.[4] As an adult she learned more about her great-grandfather, who never knew his role in inspiring the book,[4] while reading his diaries from fighting in World War I saying, "The joy and love Harry found in adopting Winnie is in stark contrast to the realities of WWI."[3] She was moved to write the book to explain her son Cole's name to him.[3]

Before its publication the book's movie rights were optioned.[5] The book was published in October 2015 and was later expanded into a 144-page book, Winnie's Great War.[6][7] The original book was released as an audiobook in April 2016 and was narrated by Erin Moon.[8]


The book is told by a mother, the author Mattick, telling a story of her great-grandfather to her son. In 1914, veterinarian Harry Colebourn, Mattick's grandfather, rides a train across Canada on his way to serve in World War I. Finding an orphaned female bear on the platform of a Winnipeg railway station for sale for $20 ($445 today), he names it "Winnie" after his hometown of Winnipeg. After first being skeptical of the bear, she becomes Colebourn's regiment's mascot, accompanying the soldiers to training in England. When the regiment moves to the front in France, Colebourn finds a home for Winnie at London Zoo. There the bear makes friends with a boy named Christopher Robin and inspires A. A. Milne to write the story of Winnie-the-Pooh, while Colebourn returns home to Canada at the end of the war to start a family. At the end of the book there are some of the photos and documents behind the story.

Writing and illustrationsEdit

Blackall illustrated the book with Chinese ink and watercolors.[9] Blackall's simple warm illustrations matched well with text which had elements of a fable.[10][11] She spent a year illustrating the book, conducting extensive research in order to get details of the period correct, for instance taking a week just to draw the map of the zoo.[1][2][3] Blackall used a box of family mementos from Mattick as a touchpoint.[2]

Mattick's "playful" writing complements Blackall's illustrations.[11] The framing device of having it be a story told to a child helps to reinforce the book's theme of family.[7][10] It also echoes Milne's work, with the voice of Cole paralleling that of Christopher Robin.[12] Mattick was careful not to invent dialogue or otherwise deviate from the historical record found in her grandfather's diaries.[12]

Reception and awardsEdit

The book was well received with starred reviews in Booklist,[10] Horn Book, where reviewer Thom Barthelmess praised that, "The sum total is as captivating as it is informative, transforming a personal family story into something universally resonant,"[11] and School Library Journal, which also gave a starred review to the audiobook.[8][13] In The New York Times Book Review, Maria Russo praised the book and described it as "gorgeously illustrated."[14] Reviews compared the book to Sally M. Walker's Winnie: The True Story of the Bear That Inspired Winnie-the-Pooh which was published earlier in 2015.[12] In a generally positive review, Jeannette Hulick in The Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books noted the ethical implications of bringing a bear across the ocean and potentially to war are, "mostly glossed over by the book’s romanticizing of Colebourn’s decision."[9]

Illustrator Blackall won the 2015 Caldecott Medal for the book.[15] The win caused an additional 5000 copies to be sold in the first week after the award.[16] In her acceptance speech Blackall expressed her gratitude for being awarded the medal and recalled, "I will remember the sound of our mingled laughing-and-crying for as long as I live."[2]

The book publicized the fact that the historical bear Winnie was a female, setting-off speculation that the literary character was also a girl. This is generally thought not to be the case judging by the use of pronouns in Milne's book as well as the gender of Christopher Robin's bear doll, Edward.[17]


  1. ^ a b c Rich, S. (2016). The Audacious Choice of Sophie Blackall. Horn Book Magazine, 92(4), 51–55. Retrieved from ebscohost.(subscription required)
  2. ^ a b c d Blackall, S. (2016). Caldecott Medal Acceptance. Horn Book Magazine, 92(4), 44–50. Retrieved from ebscohost. (subscription required)
  3. ^ a b c d HUNTER, S. (2015). Talking With LINDSAY MATTICK AND SOPHIE BLACKALL. Booklist, 112(1), 116. Retrieved from ebscohost. (subscription required)
  4. ^ a b Tyzack, Anna (2015-12-18). "Winnie the Pooh: The real story behind A A Milne's classic books". The Telegraph. ISSN 0307-1235. Retrieved 2019-03-08.
  5. ^ McNary, Dave; McNary, Dave (2014-03-26). "Winnie the Pooh Origin Story Developing at RatPac". Variety. Retrieved 2019-03-08.
  6. ^ Bird, Elizabeth. "Cover Reveal: Winnie's Great War by Lindsay Mattick and Josh Greenhut, illustrated by Sophie Blackall — @fuseeight A Fuse #8 Production". Retrieved 2019-03-01.
  7. ^ a b "Children's Book Review Finding Winnie: The True Story of the World's Most Famous Bear". Retrieved 2019-03-01.
  8. ^ a b Perper, Terri (2016-08-10). "Finding Winnie: The True Story of the World's Most Famous Bear by Lindsay Mattick | SLJ Audio Review". School Library Journal. Retrieved 2019-03-01.
  9. ^ a b Hulick, J. (2016). Finding Winnie: The True Story of the World’s Most Famous Bear by Lindsay Mattick (review). Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books 69(5), 261. Johns Hopkins University Press. Retrieved February 28, 2019, from Project MUSE database.
  10. ^ a b c Hunter, Sarah (2015-09-01). Finding Winnie: The True Story of the World's Most Famous Bear. Booklist. Retrieved 2019-02-28.
  11. ^ a b c BARTHELMESS, T. (2015). Finding Winnie: The True Story of the World’s Most Famous Bear. Horn Book Magazine, 91(5), 129–130. Retrieved from ebscohost. (subscription required)
  12. ^ a b c Bird, Elizabeth (2015-05-09). "Review of the Day: Finding Winnie by Lindsay Mattick — @fuseeight A Fuse #8 Production". Retrieved 2019-03-01.
  13. ^ Kopple, Jody (2015-08-20). "Finding Winnie: The True Story of the World's Most Famous Bear by Lindsay Mattick and Sophie Blackall | SLJ Review". School Library Journal. Retrieved 2019-03-08.
  14. ^ Russo, Maria (November 6, 2015). "Bookshelf: Bear Necessities". The New York Times Book Review. Retrieved September 5, 2017.
  15. ^ "Finding Winnie: The True Story of the World's Most Famous Bear | Awards & Grants". Retrieved 2019-03-01.
  16. ^ JURIS, C. (2016). Finding an Audience. Publishers Weekly, 263(4), 11. Retrieved from ebscohost.(subscription required)
  17. ^ Evon, Dan (2018-06-18). "FACT CHECK: Is Winnie the Pooh Actually a Girl?". Retrieved 2019-03-08.
Preceded by
The Adventures of Beekle: The Unimaginary Friend
Caldecott Medal
Succeeded by
Radiant Child: The Story of Young Artist Jean-Michel Basquiat