Last week I recommended a new chapter book, a sequel to the Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle stories, and mentioned my Trepidation Factor when a beloved old book gets reprised.
Well, multiply that by a factor of …I don’t know, 100?… when it’s a sequel to one of the best books on anybody’s list, A.A. Milne’s Winnie-the-Pooh. The immediate reaction is perhaps to vow never to read such a thing. I mean, Atticus Finch turned into a racist. What might happen to Pooh Bear?
All that to say — I was pleasantly surprised by how much I enjoyed this new collection of stories turned out for the 90th anniversary of Winnie-the-Pooh:
The Best Bear in All the World, written by Paul Bright, Brian Sibley, Jeanne Willis, and Kate Saunders, and illustrated by Mark Burgess
published by Dutton Children’s Books in 2016
The subtitle of this book, which in itself smacks of Pooh-ology, reads, “in which we join Winnie-the-Pooh for a year of adventures in the Hundred Acre Wood.” There are four chapters, one for each season, each written by a talented, British author.
There are many reasons to embrace this book, and for you die-hard Pooh-ophiles, I’ll just try to reassure you enough that you’ll give this a try.
First, these authors know Milne and Pooh Bear. Their fondness for the subject is evident in the trustworthy way they’ve maintained each personality and included elements from Milne’s original stories. Tigger still loves his Extract of Malt. Pooh writes hums. Piglet jumps with sudden fright, then tries to pawn it off as enthusiasm or some other less ignominious motive. Many allusions, from Heffalump Traps to Expotitions to the North Pole, crop up and I am glad that no tiresome explanations are given. Just — there is Owl spelling things and Roo taking his Strengthening Medicine and if you don’t know the origins, why, you’ll miss part of the joy, but if you’re steeped in Pooh stories, these little pieces of home are like unexpected smackerels of honey along the way.
Second, Milne’s style, his delightful mix of humor and tenderness, wordplay, malapropisms, the befuddlement that makes us snicker at Pooh and love him all the more — this, too, is here. One chapter has Pooh leading the way in finding the Sauce of the Nile, as apparently explorers will look for the sauce of a river right about the place it starts. Perhaps it’s some sort of applesauce? One can always hope.
Third, illustrator Mark Burgess has done a fabulous job of imitating Ernest Shepard’s style. Each character looks like himself. The lovely lines of Shepard’s ink-and-watercolor work are here, as charming as ever. Even the page layouts are familiar. The artwork is entirely in color on sparkling white, creamy pages, and a cheery new map of the Hundred Acre Wood makes up the end-papers, just as it should.
Included are brief notes from each of the contributors which give us a small window onto their thoughts and inspirations for this project.
If you are looking for Milne himself to reappear and add to his legacy, I suppose you might be disappointed, although even he might choose to wander a tad or even be unable to put himself precisely back in the headspace he was in when he penned the Pooh stories in the early 1920s. But if you have long loved Pooh Bear, I’d encourage you to pick this up and revisit the Six Pine Trees, Owl’s House, Eeyore’s Gloomy Place, and the whole company, for a fresh dose of cheer.
If you are in a third group, and have never read the original stories but only seen a Disneyfied version of Pooh — you should remedy that immediately! Read my review of Winnie-the-Pooh here and join the party!
Here are Amazon links for:
The Best Bear in All the World
The Complete Tales of Winnie-the-Pooh