Did you know that March was National Reading Month, and April is National Poetry Month? In honor of this, I pulled out the books that are warmly, firmly lodged in my heart forever, and started writing. Here they are in one collection, A. A. Milne’s original Winnie-the-Pooh and The House at Pooh Corner, and his poetry collections When We Were Very Young and Now We Are Six. If you have never read them, or if you have only ever been exposed to the Disney version of Pooh Bear, I exhort you to secure yourself a copy of all four.
These are without a doubt my favorite books and author of all time. It could be said that I live my life by A. A. Milne. His lines and scenarios come to mind in such a broad range of circumstances. I even react like Piglet in Winnie-the-Pooh when he and Pooh nearly catch a woozle, when my husband tries to startle me: “‘What?’ said Piglet, with a jump. And then, to show that he hadn’t been frightened, he jumped up and down once or twice more in an exercising sort of way.”
The illustrator too, is near to my heart. The “silly old bear” his most recognized work, E. H. Shepard also did illustrations for The Wind in the Willows and The Reluctant Dragon, both Kenneth Grahame gems. Whether pencil drawings or watercolor, his soothingly familiar pictures complement Milne’s words with an endearing quality that lends much to the work. My favorites are the ones that have children in them–there is an enchantment and a realism to his depictions of the way they play, as if make-believe and real-life are equally true, and happening always.
I once saw Winnie-the-Pooh on a book list under the caveat “not books I would read for my own enjoyment.” I couldn’t disagree more. A. A. Milne, a credit to the authors of his day, writes in a way that fully engages and genuinely amuses both child and adult. His wit and humor are supreme, and have stood the test of time fantastically. Of course, they are perfect for young children, but even if your little ones are not little any more, or if you have any nostalgia at all for your own childhood, they’re a delight.
The characters are all our old familiar favorites, only more authentic and less snarky than the animated versions. Except Eeyore. Eeyore is considerably more sardonic than the washed-up Disney donkey, a true cynic, and I love him for it. He reminds me of my late grandfather. And the whole lot of them (including Alexander Beetle, one of the smallest inhabitants of the forest, who Disney sadly overlooked), remind me of my grandmother, for it was she who originally gifted me the exceptional audio version that I fell asleep to every night as a little girl, and who made sure our kids had a copy of the books, which I now read in my best imitation of Peter Dennis’ lovable voices, officially endorsed by Christopher Robin himself.
Milne’s poetic prowess is evident in Pooh’s many verses in Winnie-the-Pooh and The House at Pooh Corner, and it gets to swell and shine in his collections of poetry, When We Were Very Young and Now We Are Six. Poetry for children can be hard to get into, and quality poetry for children can be hard to find. There are some beautiful works out there, and then there are some specimens that replace delicate command of the English language with rude and goofy humor in an attempt to appeal to kids. Milne’s offerings are exemplary—funny and charming, just like his bear.
Milne captures the magic of pretend and the gentle simplicity of early childhood because he writes from the perspective of a father about the imaginary adventures of his real-life son, Christopher Robin, and his beloved toys. It is his love and intimate knowledge of his little boy’s world that glows through the pages like the late afternoon sun through the leaves of a quiet wood on a warm September day.
As a parent, I get a little damp-eyed when we get to the end of the series. How I wish Milne had written so many more children’s books (indeed, as I researched for this post I discovered this book and ordered it), but I suspect he drew upon those little years that we all know pass too quickly, and then his boy grew up and on to bigger things. The excitement of that growing-up is evident in the introduction—I mean the Contradiction—of The House at Pooh Corner (oh yes, these are books in which even the introduction is not to be missed). Still, I can’t help being struck by the bittersweetness of it, and Milne writes with the tenderness of a parent so well, that we keep going back to it again and again, and I presume, and do hope, we will for years to come.