The Tao of "Finding Winnie:" Gratitude & Kindness

Featured illustrations by  Sophie Blackall

Featured illustrations by Sophie Blackall

(This is the second post in a 3-part series about this year’s Caldecott, Newbery, and Coretta Scott King winners, and what these children’s books can teach us about conscious living)

This year’s Caldecott winner, Finding Winnie: the True Story of the World’s Most Famous Bear, reduced me to tears as I read it standing in the aisle of my local bookstore.

But there are a couple of stories surrounding this book that I love even more. Together, they demonstrate the power of gratitude and kindness to create miracles beyond anything we can fathom.

The first is the story illustrator Sophie Blackall told about getting that magic phone call. After a weekend talking herself in and out of her chances of winning, she relaxed into a spontaneous Monday morning gratitude session. Here’s Blackall:

I had a lovely moment with my partner Ed. He said all the nice things a partner says: that we’re so lucky, no matter what, and that as awards come and go, we still have so much. And as we were saying all these heartwarming things, the phone rings.

Yep. It was the Caldecott committee giving her the good news. This is what happens when we let go of outcomes and surrender to gratitude: miracles.

I once heard Michael Beckwith relate that when he was growing up, his parents were fond of saying, “Stop crying or I’ll REALLY give you something to cry about.” Later, as a spiritual teacher, he learned that the Universe has a similar logic. If we show our gratitude for what we have, the Universe says: “Okay! Now I’ll REALLY give you something to be grateful about.”

With the highest honor for illustration safely under her belt, I’d say that Blackall now REALLY has something to be grateful about.

The second story is the backdrop to this lovely picture book. Finding Winnie relates how author Lindsay Mattick’s great-grandfather, Captain Harry Colebourn, spontaneously adopted an adorable bear cub at a train station on his way to deploying during World War I. A veterinarian, Colebourn knew that he could raise this bear with love in a way that a trapper – the bear’s former owner – never could. So he offered the man $20 and named the cub Winnie after his native Winnipeg.

Logic told him that a training barrack in Canada would not be the right place for a bear cub, much less a ship transporting the men to England. I love the refrain that Mattick gives Colebourn every time he’s faced with a new decision about Winnie:

            […] His head said, “I shouldn’t.” His head said, “I can’t.” But his heart made up his mind.

The men in his infantry fell in love with this little bear, and she became their mascot. But when it was time to go to the battlefield, Colebourn had another tough decision to make. This time it was dropping little Winnie off at the London Zoo.

In Mattick’s beautiful words, sometimes “you have to let one story end so the next one can begin.” And so it was for little Winnie, who was befriended at the zoo by a young English boy named Christopher Robin and his father, author A.A. Milne. The rest is history.

Because Colebourn adopted that little cub, millions of children have been inspired by stories about Winnie the Pooh, Piglet, Tigger, and (my favorite) Eeyore. As Mattick writes in her dedication to her son, Cole, “May this story always remind you of the impact one small, loving gesture can have.”

Gratitude and kindness have this in common – they both set ripples into motion. And we just don’t know how wide and far those ripples will reach.

We are all faced with choices every day: To do an act of kindness, or simply go on about my business? To be grateful for what I have, or focus on what I lack?

As these stories surrounding Finding Winnie reveal, it’s kind of a no-brainer.

The 411 on the book - "Finding Winnie: The True Story of the World’s Most Famous Bear" (Little, Brown and Company 2015) won the 2016 Randolph Caldecott medal for the most distinguished American picture book for children. It was a first-time win for illustrator Sophie Blackall and author Lindsay Mattick. The book is recommended for kindergartners through third-graders, but who among us wouldn’t want to be delighted by the true story of Winnie the Pooh? :-)

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