Finding Winnie

I suppose I always knew there was a real Winnie-the-Pooh—because I had heard the story of the real Christopher Robin. But it never occurred to me to wonder where Winnie came from before he was in the zoo. What a pleasant surprise to discover that he came from my home country of Canada!Finding WinnieFinding Winnie: The True Story of the World’s Most Famous Bear by Lindsay Mattick tells the story of Winnie’s journey to the zoo. Winnie is not only the “Most Famous Bear,” but he was a world traveler as well!

The story begins with a veterinarian from Winnipeg, Manitoba, named Harry Colebourn. “If a horse had the hiccups or a cow had a cough, Harry knew how to make them feel just right.”

Harry became a soldier during World War I so that he could help care for the other soldiers’ horses. He was traveling across Canada with his regiment when their train stopped at a place called White River. Harry walked onto the train platform and found a trapper with a baby bear.

Harry thought for a long time. Then he said to himself, “There is something special about that Bear.” He felt inside his pocket and said, “I shouldn’t.” He paced back and forth and said, “I can’t” Then his heart made up his mind and he walked up to the trapper and said, “I’ll give you twenty dollars for the bear.”

Harry named the bear Winnipeg, or Winnie for short. Harry trained Winnie to “stand up straight and hold her head high and turn this way and that, just so!”

Harry took Winnie on the soldiers’ ship across the Atlantic Ocean to England. She became the Mascot of the Second Canadian Infantry Brigade.

Winnie was part of Harry’s regiment until it was time for the men to go to France to fight. It was not safe for Winnie to go with them. So Harry took Winnie to live at the London Zoo.

“There is something you must always remember,” Harry said. “It’s the most important thing, really. Even if we’re apart, I’ll always love you. You’ll always be my Bear.”

While Winnie was living at the London Zoo, a little boy went to the zoo with his father. The boy saw Winnie and they became true friends. He was even allowed to go into Winnie’s enclosure and play with her.

The little boy’s name was Christopher Robin Milne. As soon as he met Winnie, he knew that there was something special about her. He decided that his own stuffed bear should be named Winnie-the-Pooh.

Ms. Mattick has written Finding Winnie as a story within a story—she tells it to her own son, Cole, as part of the book. Ms. Mattick is the great-granddaughter of Harry Colebourn, and brings a personal touch to this fantastic story of the world’s most beloved bear.

Ms. Mattick included an album in the back of the book with pictures of Harry Colebourn, his diary from 1914 noting the purchase of Winnie, and a picture of Christopher Robin with Winnie at the zoo.

Ms. Mattick’s website is If you would like to learn more about this amazing bear, you can find links to videos about Winnie and other great information on Ms. Mattick’s website!

Have you read any great books lately?

Step Right Up

I thought Mister Ed was the only talking horse around, but there was a “talking” horse long before televisions existed. Right down the road from here, in Shelbyville, Tennessee, an amazing horse and his owner lived at the turn of the twentieth century! In Step Right Up: How Doc and Jim Key Taught the World About Kindness, Donna Janell Bowman tells this unbelievable story.Step Right UpWilliam “Doc” Key was born into slavery. As he was growing up, he learned about taking care of horses. His mother taught him how to make homemade remedies. By the time he was a young man, William was so good at treating horses’ injuries and sicknesses that everyone called him “Doc.”

Then came the Civil War, and Doc was a free man. He built a new life as a businessman. He created many medicines, including one called Keystone Liniment, which was very popular. Doc bought a medicine wagon and rode from town to town selling the Keystone Liniment.

Doc bought a scrawny gray mare that he named Lauretta. She later gave birth to a sickly colt that could barely walk.

Doc named the baby horse Jim Key and nursed him until he was healthy. Jim followed Doc around and watched Doc’s every move. One day, when Jim saw Doc playing fetch with a dog, Jim tried to join in and brought Doc a stick to throw. Doc soon taught Jim other dog tricks—Jim learned to sit, play dead, act sick, and roll over on cue.

When Jim was about a year old, Lauretta died. Doc was worried about Jim, so he brought the horse into his house to live. Jim lived inside the house until he was too big; then both Doc and Jim moved into the barn. Doc’s training of Jim continued:

When Doc was ready to hitch up the medicine wagon again, he decided to bring Jim along as his newest attraction. Doc held up a bottle of Keystone Liniment and announced for people to gather around. He told the crowd how his sickly, crippled colt had grown strong and healthy. Right on cue, Jim pretended to be sick. He limped and drooped and snorted and wobbled. Then Doc gave Jim a spoonful of medicine and massaged a dollop of liniment into his legs. Suddenly Jim acted well again. He pranced around, frisky as a pup.

The audience clapped and laughed and lined up to buy Doc’s medicines.

At home, Jim watched Doc count money and write letters. One day, Doc’s wife asked Jim if he wanted a piece of apple, and Jim nodded his head. This made Doc wonder what else Jim could learn.

With much patience, Doc taught Jim the alphabet. Over the next seven years, Jim learned how to spell words, add sums, find flags to identify states, move clock hands to tell time, and even write his name on a blackboard with chalk!

People were astounded. Doc explained: “The whip makes horses stubborn and they obey through fear. Kindness, kindness, and more kindness, that’s the way.”

Doc and Jim Key performed around the country, helping to promote the cause of kindness to animals. Humane societies decided that Jim Key was the perfect animal to represent their cause. The humane societies believed that animals were intelligent, capable of emotions, and willing to learn if treated well.

Doc and Jim Key traveled the country for nine years, proving to millions of people that “with kindness, anything is possible.” Let us all remember the lesson they taught.

I had never heard about this astonishing animal before reading this book. I wish I lived back in Doc and Jim Key’s time so that I could see the talented horse in action. Since that is not possible, I am grateful to Ms. Bowman for doing such a wonderful job bringing Jim Key to life for me.

Ms. Bowman is the author of a number of educational books for children, including The Sioux: The Past and Present of the Dakota, Lakota, and Nakota and The Navajo: The Past and Present of the Diné. Her love of horses is apparent not only in her writing about Jim Key, but also in two other horse books that she has written. Her website, is full of information and resources.

Have you read any great books lately?

George Crum and the Saratoga Chip

This colorful picture book tells the story of the invention of the potato chip which, like so many great inventions, was discovered by accident. According to the story told by Gaylia Taylor in George Crum and the Saratoga Chip, potato chips were created by a frustrated chef named George Crum who was trying to satisfy a picky customer.George CrumThe book begins long before George’s famous culinary creation. It starts by telling of George’s childhood in the 1830s in Saratoga Springs, New York.

George was part Native American and part African American. At school, he battled other children’s perceptions that he was inferior to them because they were white. Ms. Taylor discusses this prejudice directly and describes how George fought this discrimination throughout his life.

When he was finished with school, George spent his time fishing and hunting in the nearby Adirondack mountains. One day while he was out hunting, he met a Frenchman, who happened to be an excellent cook. The Frenchman taught George how to cook what he had caught over a campfire.

This experience sparked George’s realization that “he had a passion for cooking.” He began experimenting until he had perfected recipes for the birds, fish, venison, and other game he trapped.

George wanted to show all of Saratoga Springs what a good cook he was. He decided the best way to do this was to become a chef in a restaurant. It wasn’t easy for George to get a job as a chef in those days. Most restaurant owners wouldn’t hire a man of color to be anything but a waiter. George didn’t let that stop him.

George got a job as a chef at one of the best restaurants in Saratoga Springs. He became famous for his cooking, and wealthy, prominent people traveled far distances to eat his dishes.

George found that some of those customers were difficult to please, and he had little patience for them. One day, a fussy customer came in and ordered French-fried potatoes. George was sure they were perfect, but the customer sent them back, claiming they were too thick.

George grabbed a potato and sliced it so thin that when he held a slice up to the light, he could see straight through it. He put them into a pot full of hot oil, and cooked them longer and at a higher temperature than was needed for French fries. When they were done, he piled them onto a plate and served his new creation to the customer himself.

The customer declared them to be “the most delicious potato delicacy she had ever tasted.” And the “Saratoga Chip” was born!

Frank Morrison’s illustrations in this book are amazing. Full of color and detail, they take the reader from the one-room schoolhouse where George could not count to 100, to the beauty of the Adirondack mountains, to the excitement of the kitchen in Moon’s Lake House restaurant. They are a perfect pairing to this story, and will help young readers fully engage with the tale of George Crum. Mr. Morrison’s art is featured on his website:

Have you read any great books lately?

Preaching to the Chickens

The story of young John Lewis, one of the original Freedom Riders and long-time civil rights leader, seems an appropriate topic for MLK Day. Preaching to the Chickens is a beautiful story about the boy who would grow up to become the youngest member of the “Big Six” (black leaders who led the March on Washington in 1963), and who stood at the front of the line when troopers attacked unarmed demonstrators in Selma, Alabama in 1965. “Young” John Lewis is now a member of the U.S. House of Representatives, serving Georgia’s 5th Congressional District.

But Preaching to the Chickens doesn’t talk about John Lewis’ work as a civil rights leader. It is the story of “little John Lewis” and his life on the farm in southern Alabama.Preaching to the Chickens

There was “plenty of work on a farm.” Everyone had work to do, and John was put in charge of the chickens—about sixty in all.

After feeding them and cleaning their nests each day, “John would say to them ‘Enjoy this day that God has given us.’ The chickens, looking straight at him, seemed to understand.”

Church was, of course, an important part of life for John and his family. They attended every Sunday. John loved church, and found peace as the worshippers clapped and sang.

Like the ministers he heard in church, John wanted to preach, so he gathered his chickens in the yard.

John stretched his arms above his flock and let the words pour forth. The chickens nodded and dipped their beaks as if they agreed. They swayed to the rhythm of his voice.

John’s brothers and sisters couldn’t tell one bird from another. John knew every one, and he had a line of verse for each of them.

“Blessed are the peacemakers,” he’d say when they fought over their morning meal.

“Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness,” he would tell a hen who didn’t want to share, “for they shall be satisfied.”

John’s brothers and sisters eventually began calling him Preacher. “He didn’t mind. He knew that someday he’d speak before thousands. He hoped that his words would stir people’s souls and move them to action.”

Preaching to the Chickens was written by Jabari Asim. Mr. Asim has taken the story of a great civil rights icon of this century and has told just enough that a child can relate to young John and his chickens. The young reader may learn that they can pursue their dreams and grow up to do anything. The story is a fascinating look at the early days of John Lewis.

Mr. Asim’s fabulous prose is paired with E.B. Lewis’ stunning watercolor paintings. You can see the love on John’s face as he talks to his chickens, the delight shining on his face as he sings at church, and the morning light rising as he preaches to his chickens.

Preaching to the Chickens is a book to be read, to be cherished, and to be discussed with your children. It is a perfect opening to a discussion of the civil rights movement—or it can simply be a sweet story of a young boy growing up on a farm and preaching to his chickens.

Have you read any great books lately?

Passing the Music Down

As a musical family, we often gravitate toward books that have some musical aspect to them. Passing the Music Down by Sarah Sullivan is a wonderful story about Appalachian fiddling. The illustrations by Barry Root are the perfect pairing to the lyrical text of this book.

Passing the Music Down

Passing the Music Down is a picture book inspired by a true story of the lives of two musicians—Melvin Wine from Tennessee and Jake Krack from Indiana—who performed fiddle music together. They were best friends even though they met when Melvin was 86 and Jake was 9 years old.

In the story, a boy’s family travels “clear from Indiana” to “the old, old mountains slumbering east of Tennessee” just to hear an old fiddler play. After the fiddler “saws out a lick,” he asks the boy to play for him. The old man then shares a tip with the boy for improving his playing.

Like a katydid in spring, / the boy’s heart dances. / “Will you teach me all your tunes?” / he asks with a gulp. / “Will you show me how they go? / I want to play like you.”

The fiddler wipes his brow, / Takes a long, slow look. / “You ought to bring that boy to see me,” / he tells the young man’s folks. / “Pay a visit to the farm, / and we’ll play some old-time tunes.”

Passing the music down.

The boy begins traveling to visit the old man. They work on the farm together and play music together. Eventually the boy’s family moves from Indiana to live close to the old man.

On cold December nights / they fiddle by the fire. / Snow settles deep against the fence, and / the boy settles deep inside the music.

The story does not use any names for its characters, but merely refers to Melvin as “the fiddler” or the “old man” and to Jake as the “boy.” Notably, at the end of the book, after years of Melvin “passing the music down,” Jake becomes “the fiddler” on the last page. This echoes their real-life story, in which, according to the Author’s Note, Jake won first place in an old-time fiddlers’ contest at the same place in West Virginia that he had met Melvin 11 years earlier.

Passing the Music Down is not just a story about two musicians who shared a friendship that crossed generations, it is a story about the fiddle music passed down by oral tradition in the mountains of Appalachia. It is a beautiful story about how this music has been able to exist and continue for so many years by simply being passed on from one musician to the next.

For readers who want more information about either the characters in Passing the Music Down or about Appalachian music, Ms. Sullivan has provided many “extras.” There is an Author’s Note that summarizes details from both Melvin’s and Jake’s musical lives. There is a brief description of the “Tunes” mentioned in the book. And there is a page of resources, which includes books and articles, a discography, videos, and websites to visit for more information.

Ms. Sullivan’s own website is

Have you read any great books lately?

The Life of Ruth Bader Ginsburg

In a clash of my lawyer and writer worlds, we recently read I DISSENT! Ruth Bader Ginsburg Makes Her Mark by Debbie Levy.i-dissent

We’ve read a few picture book biographies lately, and we were particularly impressed by the way in which this presents Justice Ginsburg’s life so as to capture the young reader’s attention. The theme of Justice Ginsburg disagreeing, or dissenting, begins on the first page, and reappears every page or two throughout the story. It is not just a recitation of what happened in Justice Ginsburg’s life, but how she responded to it.

The book begins in Brooklyn, New York in 1940, where in families everywhere, one thing was the same:

Boys were expected to grow up, go out in the world, and do big things.

Girls? Girls were expected to find husbands.

Fortunately for all of us in America, “little Ruth’s” mother disagreed with this expectation. She took Ruth to the library, where Ruth read about girls and women “who did big things.” Ruth discovered that a girl could be anything.

The book explains that as she was growing up, Justice Ginsburg saw and experienced prejudice. She continued to persevere and work toward her goals despite the disapproval of others.

Law student, law professor, lawyer, and—spoiler alert! I don’t want to ruin the ending for anyone—ultimately, Justice of the Supreme Court of the United States. Her career path required persistence and a great deal of disagreeing with those around her.

As a fellow “lady lawyer” (which I say in all seriousness, as I have been called this on more than one occasion), I am grateful for the persistence of women such as Justice Ginsburg. I read the following description of Justice Ginsburg’s law school experience with interest:

Ruth’s law school class had a total of nine women—and five hundred men. She studied mightily and tied for first place in the class. And yet at graduation time no one would hire this brilliant new lawyer.

Why not?

She was a woman. Men didn’t want to work with a woman.

She was a mother. Men thought a mother wouldn’t pay attention to work.

She was Jewish. Many people were (still) prejudiced.

I have heard similar stories from women here in Nashville. The women who had just a few other women in their law school classes of nearly all men. The women who could not get jobs as lawyers after graduation.

A heartfelt thank-you to each and every one of you for making it possible for those of us who came after you to attend law school and to obtain jobs without our gender being an issue. My law school class was nearly evenly split between men and women, and I don’t know of anyone in my class who felt that she was denied a job because she was a woman.

My husband and I had a little chuckle when the family was talking about the book over dinner yesterday evening, and Alex referred to it as “I Dissect.” We’ve now cleared up that little error. This might be a good name for a biography of a doctor, or medical examiner, though—maybe there is another great woman of American culture in the medical world who Debbie Levy can do a biography about next?

Have you read any great books lately?