lukewarm reaction to Half Magic followed by a brief and unsuccessful stint with How to Train Your Dragon, I decided that a return to a tried and true children's classic was in order. And what could be more of a classic than Winnie-the-Pooh?
Wow. Even I was impressed with how Aaron and Maxwell responded to it. It was one of our best readalouds yet.
I'm assuming that all of you know the story: Winnie-the-Pooh (also known as Edward Bear) is the stuffed bear of Christopher Robin. Most of the story takes place in the Hundred Acre Wood (created by the boundless imagination of Christopher Robin and his father). Winnie-the-Pooh and all of his friends (Piglet, Rabbit, Owl, Eeyore, Kanga, and Roo, with occasional appearances from Christopher Robin himself) go on lots of adventures: hunting for Woozles, looking for Eeyore's tail, saving Piglet from drowning, etc. This story encapsulates all the magic of childhood.
Okay, confession: this was my first time reading this book. My mom read a lot of wonderful classics to me when I was little, but not this one. There are just too many good books out there, you know? So now, as an adult, I've been picking up a lot of the classics that I missed: The Phantom Tollbooth, Matilda, Bridge to Terabithia, to name a few. Even though I have truly enjoyed these missed classics, I can't shake the undeniable feeling that something is missing from my reading. And that something is almost certainly nostalgia. Since I didn't read these books as a child, I have no memory attached to them and therefore no expectations or anticipations. While this can be a good thing if you're trying to look at a book objectively or analytically, it usually leaves me with a sort of sad, lonesome when I don't have any memories to fall back onto. (Luckily, since my mom did read to me a lot, I do have lots of other books that I've been revisiting as an adult that have lots of memories attached to them.)
But here's what I've discovered: if I read one of these overlooked classics to my children, it's almost as good as having my own childhood memories: I still get to have the benefit of reading it from an adult point-of-view, but I also get to see how they like it and therefore how I might have liked it if I had heard it when I was three or four.
And the truth is, they loved it. I know this was in part because of the abundance of illustrations scattered on almost every page. Most of these were quite small (just Eeyore in some silly position or Pooh Bear touching his toes), but it didn't matter. It gave Aaron and Maxwell something to anchor their eyes to and therefore, their minds were engaged with the story.
Even though I didn't read the book when I was younger, I did watch the Disney adaptation many times (which follows the book pretty closely). I wondered if this colored my experience with the book? (Who am I kidding? Of course it did! I couldn't read the part about Pooh pretending to be a little black rain cloud without hearing Sterling Holloway's voice.) Would I have thought Eeyore's doom-and-gloom view of life and Owl's ridiculous monologues were clever and endearing or confusing and strange?
Just for the record, I do find the characters clever and endearing (more on that in a minute). I'm only asking this because while I was reading the first few chapters, I felt like there were many introductions and explanations left unsaid and sometimes what was said added more confusion than clarity. For example, in the chapter when Piglet is introduced, the entire first paragraph is about Piglet's grandfather who was supposedly named Trespassers W. This paragraph gets funnier with age, but the first time through, it's rather bewildering and would, I imagine, be even more so if you didn't already have some inkling as to who Piglet is.
Speaking of humor, the wit and charm of this story cannot be overlooked, mainly because it is witty and charming for both children and adults. Truly an impressive accomplishment. One of Maxwell's favorite stories was the one where Winnie the Pooh is desperate for some honey--so desperate that he's willing to roll in some mud and float on the end of a balloon in the hope that he will be mistaken for a little black rain cloud. He thought it was funny because it was perfectly obvious to him that Winnie the Pooh did not look like a rain cloud . . . but at the same time, he was overcome with the exciting prospect of fooling bees and floating in the sky.
Aaron, on the other hand, loved the story about the expedition (or "expotition," whichever you prefer) to the North Pole. There was something so delightful and entertaining with the idea of looking for a "pole" when everyone knows (especially know-it-all four-year-olds) that the North Pole isn't just any old random pole.
For me, the clever and absurd dialogues were the best part. Here are a few of my favorite lines:
"There's just one thing," said Piglet, fidgeting a bit. "I was talking to Christopher Robin, and he said that a Kanga was Generally Regarded as One of the Fiercer Animals. I am not frightened of Fierce Animals in the ordinary way, but it is well known that, if One of the Fiercer Animals is Deprived of Its Young, it becomes as fierce as Two of the Fiercer Animals. In which case 'Aha!' is perhaps a foolish thing to say."
"Now then, Pooh," said Christopher Robin, "where's your boat?"
"I ought to say," explained Pooh as they walked down to the shore of the island, "that it isn't just an ordinary sort of boat. Sometimes it's a Boat, and sometimes it's more of an Accident. It all depends."
"Depends on what?"
"On whether I'm on the top of it or underneath it."
I also loved all of the references to Rabbit's relations, which is a detail that Disney left out entirely (as far as I remember) and which I find so incredibly funny: "And all Rabbit's friends-and-relations spread themselves about on the grass, and waited hopefully in case anybody spoke to them, or dropped anything, or asked them the time."
I'm sure this is a favorite book for many of you, and so I have to ask: Do you like the ending? I'm asking this because, to be perfectly frank, I didn't. I loved the rest of the book but was both surprised and sad about the ending. Maybe I'm just too used to contemporary novels where everything has a moral and where kindness is the ultimate objective. But, guys, what about Eeyore? Did your heart not break when he stands up to give his acceptance speech and you know he's in for a bitter disappointment when he finds out the party is actually for Winnie the Pooh? Did you not want to cry when Piglet says, "I'd sooner it was [your party] than Eeyore's." Did you not silently wish that Pooh would see Eeyore's disappointment and give him one of his pencils or say a kind word or give him a little shout-out? Did you not cry out in disbelief, "What?! This is the end?! You're going home?!"
When I got to the end of the story, I did all of those things. Aaron and Maxwell looked at me strangely. It didn't bother them in the same way it did me. And to be honest, I've never heard anyone else even mention the ending, so am I just being overly sensitive? Maybe I just have a soft spot for Eeyore.
In spite of the ending, this book was a treat. The boys and I couldn't wait to read it every night, and the chapters went by much too quickly. It is so fun for me to see how a book that is almost 90 years old can still hold a young audience completely captive.