Dear A.A. Milne,
Thank you for Winnie-the-Pooh! And, of course, thank you also for all the other Pooh books that followedhttp://www.biography.com/people/aa-milne-9409137#synopsis. Seventy some odd years ago, my mother took special pleasure in introducing me to your stories, so I’m grateful on her behalf as well as my own. Their popularity among her friends and in the press and her own Anglophilia drove her to purchase them and read them to me two decades after their publication in the 1920s.
An elementary school teacher for ten years before my birth, my mother had shared with me picture books, fairy tales, and poems. But your stories combine the virtues of all of these without the condescension of many picture books, the gore of Grimm, and the fancy language of poetry. Without understanding why, I took to them right away. I cherished my mom’s bedtime readings because although she was not an especially affectionate person, she sat close to me so I could see the pages and hear her softened voice, and she rewarded my interest with smiles and nods of approval. She wanted me to read early and well. But I didn’t like the thought of learning to read if it meant losing those moments before sleep when she sat beside me on my bed and gave me her full and approving attention. I was an only child and she was what we now call a stay-at-home-mom, so I had no rival for her attention. In fact, I got a lot of it, because she closely supervised my toilet training, eating habits, personal hygiene, grooming, wardrobe, manners, and social life. But my performance in these areas often failed to win her approval whereas my learning to read earned smiles.
I loved your stories and Ernest Shepard’s illustrations. At first I was a bit disappointed because all the characters were male, but in one of the early drawings in Winnie-the-Pooh, Christopher Robin wears sandals similar to some I had, so I knew he was not like the boys on our block, sneaker-wearing ruffians all. And in that same now iconic drawing, he is dragging Pooh down a flight of stairs, clearly determined to keep his teddy bear with him. I easily identified with that long-haired little boy because I too had a teddy bear I liked to have around and with whom I conversed on a regular basis.
I don’t remember my mom reading any other stories with the animation she brought to yours. She sang the songs Pooh makes up with great gusto and delighted in explaining English customs and expressions and the words Pooh fabricates. She also made sure I saw the drawings as they appear and appreciated the foibles of each of Pooh’s associates in the forest. I especially appreciated her woeful delivery of Pooh’s predictable post-predicament insistence that he is a “Bear of Little or No Brain at All.” I enjoyed giggling over the antics of Pooh and his gang and suspect that the idea that one’s mistakes can be humorous and also make good stories stuck with me. Pooh was really my first anti-hero.
When I did learn to read, I reread your books and at times almost forgot that I was alone. Thank you.