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There are some products that you get genuinely excited about reviewing and for me, this is one of them. Who hasn't heard of Winnie-the-Pooh? He's become a household name thanks to his association with Disney and the wide variety of films and merchandise they've produced of him and his friends over the years. This gorgeous special edition has been produced to commemorate Pooh's 75th anniversary; a remarkable age for a children's fictional character to achieve it has to be noted. My son is now the fourth generation of my family to sit listening to these stories and I can't think of any other character that has maintained popularity through so many generations.
For those of you that don't know the story of where Pooh began, let me start by telling you his birth was not attended by Disney executives. No, he was the creation of aspiring author Alan Alexander Milne:
Milne was born in 1882 in Hampstead, London to Sarah and John Milne who already had two young boys: David and Kenneth. John Milne was the school master for Henley House where his children attended for their early education. It is suggested that Milne found early inspiration from one of his teachers there, H G Wells (author of War of the Worlds amongst others).
Following many years work as a journalist (including for Punch magazine), an unsuccessful author and sometimes successful playwright as well as a soldier in the First World War; Milne struck upon his biggest success when he teamed up with former Punch colleague Ernest Shepherd to produce the 1924 children's poetry book "When We Were Very Young". From there, Winnie-the-Pooh was born with the central characters based around Milne's son Christopher Robin and his favourite teddy bear that had been named after the London Zoo bear "Winnipeg"; the pictures were inspired by Shepherd's son's bear "Growler". The rest of the cast was built up from a combination of Christopher Robin's stuffed animals and those that lived nearby to the family's rural home.
Although we will never truly know what went on behind closed doors all those decades ago, it is widely reported that the Winnie-the-Pooh stories proved somewhat of a bone of contention in the Milne household; but dig a little deeper and this appears to me to be down to family rivalries rather the success of Winnie-the-Pooh. Following Milne's death in 1956, Christopher reportedly hardly spoke to his Mother Dorothy (aka Daphne) despite her living on for fifteen years after her husband's death. This was probably due to the fact that Christopher married his Mother's niece Lesley De Selincourt; daughter of Dorothy's Brother Aubrey with whom Dorothy had little or no relationship rather than anything to do with the Winnie-the-Pooh stories.
In 1961 the rights to Winnie-the-Pooh were sold to Disney by Dorothy Milne and from there, the popular film star we know today was born. These days we know Winnie-the-Pooh and his friends as cuddly soft toys, key rings, phone charms, money boxes and even earrings. But initially they all started out as creations of A A Milne's and E H Shepherd's in a small series of books from the 1920's: "When We Were Very Young", "Now We Are Six", "Winnie-the-Pooh" and "The House at Pooh Corner". These were the only four original publications by the original creators and these are the stories and poems that can be found within this 75th anniversary edition.
Beautifully bound in a golden and reddish brown hardback book, complete with a decorative slip-on cover; this gorgeous edition was first published in 2001 exactly 75 years after Winnie-the-Pooh was first created. Although I'm a die-hard believer that books are to be read and not just look pretty on the shelf, this is one of those books for which I will make an exception. The book is far too heavy for a child to sit and read alone but given that the stories are too long and the vocabulary too complex for your average under seven to read alone anyway, I feel it's a given that this is a book for parents to sit and read to their children and not one for them to look at alone.
My son is only two but he already thoroughly enjoys sitting and listening to the stories and poems within this book. Especially appealing to him are the poems complete with fast-paced, tongue-twisting vocabulary that's pleasing to ears of all ages. Our favourite has to be "Us Two":
Wherever I am, there's always Pooh, There's always Pooh and Me. Whatever I do, he wants to do, "Where are you going today?" says Pooh: "Well, that's very odd 'cos I was too. Let's go together," says Pooh, says he. "Let's go together," says Pooh.
"What's twice eleven?" I said to Pooh. ("Twice what?" said Pooh to Me.) "I think it ought to be twenty-two." "Just what I think myself," said Pooh. "It wasn't an easy sum to do, But that's what it is," said Pooh, said he. "That's what it is," said Pooh.
"Let's look for dragons," I said to Pooh. "Yes, let's," said Pooh to Me. We crossed the river and found a few, "Yes, those are dragons all right," said Pooh. "As soon as I saw their beaks I knew. That's what they are," said Pooh, said he. "That's what they are," said Pooh.
"Let's frighten the dragons," I said to Pooh. "That's right," said Pooh to Me. "I'm not afraid," I said to Pooh, And I held his paw and I shouted "Shoo! Silly old dragons!" and off they flew.
"I wasn't afraid," said Pooh, said he, "I'm never afraid with you."
So wherever I am, there's always Pooh, There's always Pooh and Me. "What would I do?" I said to Pooh, "If it wasn't for you," and Pooh said: "True, It isn't much fun for One, but Two, Can stick together, says Pooh, says he, "That's how it is," says Pooh.
As you can see, it's beautifully repetitive and the rhymes flow easily throughout once you get into the rhythm of it; I feel that's why it holds such appeal to very young children. As they grow that little bit older, it's a wonderful way to gain basic insight into friendship and imagination as well.
The actual stories you'll find contained within are relatively similar to an extent with regards to the characters and the settings yet all enjoyable in their individual ways at the same time. You'll find many a running joke in all of the stories that Pooh is "a bear of little brain" and that he has an unsatisfiable hunger that all the honey in the world can't allay. You'll find that Eeyore is nearly always gloomy and that Rabbit is usually a bit untrusting and almost sarcastic whilst Piglet is naïve and unsure of himself. Although Disney later interpreted these characters in slightly different ways, it's best to remember that we're talking about the original characters here and their charms and character traits do differ notably from the characters some of you may be solely accustomed to.
One of the greatest pleasures in reading these stories to children of all ages has to be that they are fun and humorous without being offensive or over-analytical. Many of the jokes involve scenarios such as Rabbit using Pooh's legs as a towel airer when he is wedged in her front door. And Owl using Eeyore's lost tail as a door bell pulley without realising what it actually is. You can laugh along with the character's silliness in an almost polite way without feeling like any one character is the "butt of the jokes" as can all too often happen with children's stories in my experience. It doesn't ever matter that Pooh is always hungry - they all love him just the way he is and that's all there is to it. There's no mention of religion or cultural diversity or obvious life lessons; just good manners from all the characters involved (they always says please and thank you!) and a few silly jokes along the way.
In places you'll find the stories may be a little too long for children under the age of about five years old to hold concentration though I do find the splatterings of detailed original illustrations help with this. I also find that the stories are often quite broken up in places with different events being the focus of each new chapter so it's easy enough to read these stories chapter by chapter on different days of the week without it causing too many problems for children who can't quite remember the story they heard the night before.
The vocabulary used throughout isn't complex or difficult to understand however I do feel the style and format may prove a challenge to some. Those who are accustomed to reading a variety of texts on a regular or frequent basis would have relatively little difficulty in keeping the stories going but I do feel this could prove challenging for a few people. The most disjointed aspect of the stories is the character's frequent dialogue and you do need to be aware that it is almost a talent to keep the dialogue flowing at times! It's worth noting here that Milne, prior to writing these stories, had achieved most of his success from playwriting. That is probably why the stories become almost like plays in places. But if you can keep the flow going and are quick enough to switch between characters every few words with ease then it does add a special touch to what you're reading. Not least because it brings the characters to life all the more.
If you're looking for something special to share with your children this Christmas then I can't think of a better purchase to make. The batteries will never need replacing and there's no better reason to spend half and hour's quality time with your children at the end of a long, tiring day.
Some of my sources: http://www.poohcorner.com/A-Short-History-of-Pooh-and-Winnie.html http:/ /www.pooh-corner.org/christopher.shtml http://www.just-pooh.com/milne.html http://www.kirjasto.sci.fi/aamilne.htm
Superb review! Winnie the Pooh brings back such lovely childhood memories - I'd much rather read this to a child than a lot of the books I see in the children's section these days.
jesi 28.01.2008 21:59
We used to have a record with stories read and some of the poems set to music ~ my favourite songs were "Halfway up the stairs is a place l love to sit ~ There isn't really anywhere quite like it ~ it's not at the bottom, it's not at the head ~ it isn't really anywhere; it's somewhere else instead" and the one that goes "Binker wants a chocolate, so, ah, could you give me two? and then l eat it for him 'cause his teeth are rather new" ~~~~ still exceptional, Elle, my dear . . . your vocabulary and spelling proficiency are no doubt aided by your literary prowess
. . . ~ ! ♥♥ ! ~ ........................................................... ~ jes ~ ! ♥♥ !
jesi 13.12.2007 18:09
BRILLIANT REVIEW ~ l was brought up on these! ~~~~ jes ~~~~