- The Washington Times - Wednesday, September 12, 2001

The stories were only about a bear and his honey pot, but today, Winnie the Pooh may be the world's most beloved stuffed animal.

This fall, Winnie the Pooh, a toy bear that inspired sales of more than 50 million books in the 20th century, turns 75.

The story of Pooh, as well as his friends Piglet, Eeyore, Kanga, Roo, Tigger, Owl and Rabbit, might have never been written hadn't A.A. Milne, a British humorist for Punch magazine, a playwright and a mystery author, needed a toy for his son, Christopher Robin Milne.

Back in 1921, the author bought a small stuffed bear for his son from the Harrods department store in London. As the father added more playthings to the menagerie, he was inspired to create stories about them.

The bear was named after a real bruin named Winnie at the London Zoo. On occasion, Christopher was allowed to feed her, as she was quite tame. Although Winnie did not like honey, she did have a sweet tooth for condensed milk.

Thus he began calling his own teddy bear "Winnie."

In 1926, Mr. Milne tried his luck at publishing "Winnie the Pooh," the first of what would be four books about an imaginary world where Eeyore [a stuffed donkey] loses his tail, Tigger [a toy tiger] regains his bounce and everyone finds the North Pole.

The name "Pooh" came from a poem in which Christopher Robin feeds a swan each morning. If the swan refused to approach him, the child simply said, "Pooh!" pretending he did not care.

Loaded with illustrations by Ernest H. Shepard, an illustrator for Punch, the books caught on famously, selling 150,000 copies the first year. Eventually, the Pooh canon included four books: "The House at Pooh Corner," "When We Were Very Young," "Now We Are Six," and the original, "Winnie the Pooh."

Mr. Milne, who died in 1956, was quite successful in capturing "incomparably and enduringly, the frolic and indolence, the sweetness and foolishness, of animals which are also people," wrote Thomas Burnett Swann in a 1971 biography of the "Pooh" author.

The books' simple storylines are also worded in a way that is very close to how children think. Time either does not exist or it is very elongated; in Pooh's universe, physically impossible feats become possible.

"Pooh books do not gloss over people making mistakes. Children can strongly identify with Pooh making mistakes," says Sylvia Maxson, an associate professor of teacher education at California State University in Long Beach. "Plus, Eeyore feels blue and Tigger is grumpy. Children react to that. Children can identify with loveable characters just like Peter Rabbit, Alice in Wonderland and Harry Potter."

Like other creators of great children's books — C.S. Lewis' Narnia books, J.R.R. Tolkien's "Lord of the Rings" series and J.K. Rowlings' Harry Potter books — Mr. Milne was British.

However, it's the Americans who are throwing the party. Starting Oct. 14, Dutton Children's Books, a division of Penguin Putnam Books for Young Readers, will kick off anniversary festivities.

Along with the British publisher Methuen & Company Ltd., Dutton was the co-publisher of the Pooh books in the 1920s. In fact, the original toys were in residence at the New York-based publisher from 1956 to 1987, when they were transferred to a display case at the New York Public Library.

The Pooh books have been translated into 33 languages, including Czech, Yiddish, Afrikaans, Esperanto and a Latin translation, "Winnie Ille Pu," that made the New York times bestseller list for 20 weeks in 1960.

It even inspired an adult work, "The Tao of Pooh," by Benjamin Hoff.

For the Winnie the Pooh fans who can't make it to New York, a special event kit has been produced for Pooh-themed parties at libraries or schools. A new Web site, www.pooh75.com, will be online soon.

"Pooh has taught children positive values, which we need," says Stevanne Auerbach, director of the Institute of Childhood Resources in San Francisco. "They are wonderful stories with a lot of meaning for children and adults. The stories inflict kindness, which the world needs right now."


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