Of course I knew of Winnie-the-Pooh growing up. He was a bear, he liked honey, he had friends. Eeyore was a downer. Piglet was little and squeaky. Rabbit was Rabbit. And Christopher Robin was a little boy and I was never sure how a little boy was friends with forest animals or how the forest animals seemed to be stuffed animals but live in the forest...but I never really thought of it much. I saw Pooh on cartoons, and I maybe had some board books or something like that, but I don't believe I ever actually read (or was read) any of A.A. Milne's unabridged classic tales until last month. And after reading the actual tales, I now understand why they are famous. A.A. Milne is good, and Winnie-the-Pooh is FABULOUS!
If you like children's literature and you don't have A.A. Milne's Winnie-the-Pooh go out and buy it NOW. You can get a cheap paperback for as little as $5.99 new, or you can get a fancy hardcover with color illustrations for about $20. There is something to be said for the hardcover, because once you read the stories you won't want to give them up.
A.A. Milne's writing is not just for children, but for adults, particularly adults who are around children. From Chapter 1:
"When I first heard his name, I said, just as you are going to say, "But I thought he was a boy?"
"So did I," said Christopher Robin.
"Then you can't call him Winnie?"
"But you said-"
"He's Winne-ther-Pooh. Don't you know what 'ther' means?"
"Ah, yes, now I do," I said quickly; and I hope you do too, because it is all the explanation you are going to get.
It is Milne's style of writing, more than the facts of the stories themselves, that make Winnie-the-Pooh so pleasurable, and memorable. True the idea of a bear visiting his friend (Rabbit) and then eating so much he is not able to fit through the door is funny, but it is not as funny as Rabbit's response:
"It all comes," said Rabbit sternly, "of eating too much. I thought so at the time," said Rabbit, "only I didn't like to say anything," said Rabbit, "that one of us was eating too much," said Rabbit, "and I knew it wasn't me," he said.
The truth is we don't sell much of Winnie-the-Pooh in the store. We'll sell level readers and board books that feature his likeness, and pared-down versions of his stories. But it is not the same. The level readers we sell aren't bad, but sentences are missing, and well, I miss them. When you abridge Milne's writing, you abridge his humor; the story is still there, but the twinkle is gone.
Milne has written more than just Winnie-the-Pooh, he wrote The House at Pooh Corner. But I haven't read it yet. I never read any A.A. Milne until the publisher Penguin decided to publish a THIRD book in the Winnie-the-Pooh series written not by A.A. Milne (who died in 1956) but by David Benedictus. This book by Mr. Benedictus is called Return to the Hundred Acre Wood. I confess I haven't read it, but I will. I will also read Milne's When We Were Very Young and Now We are Six. But because I haven't read Mr. Benedictus' edition to the Pooh family I can't comment on it's worthiness, but I am curious.