A.A. Milne, writer of Winnie-the-Pooh

A.A. MILNE'S
WRITING

Milne’s four ‘Winnie-the-Pooh’ books have become timeless classics of children’s literature. Published in the 1920s, these books have been translated into around 70 languages and are still read today by children all over the world. Milne did not intend to become a children’s author, even though he is largely seen as this today. Milne had a hugely successful career as a playwright and contributor to Punch magazine before the 100 Acre Wood. The ‘Pooh’ books were written for his family, each book is dedicated to a loved one. Two books are dedicated to his wife, Daphne; one is dedicate to his son Christopher; and one to Christopher’s best friend, Ann Darlington, who was very close to the family. 

FIND OUT MORE ABOUT EACH BOOK...

Milne’s first endeavour into writing for children, ‘When We Were Very Young’ is a collection of poetry and verses. Milne’s publishers were expecting to be presented with a detective novel, and were surprised to find out that Milne had been working on children’s literature. In this book, we meet Christopher and his trusty companion, Edward Bear, who later becomes known as Pooh.

In 1925, the Milne family moved to Cotchford Farm on the edge of the Ashdown Forest. Inspired the local landscape and watching his son play with his toys, A.A. Milne writes Winnie-the-Pooh. As the book’s title suggests, Edward Bear has now Winnie-the-Pooh and we are introduced to the 100 Acre Wood. We meet Piglet, Eeyore, Owl, Kanga & Roo too. Christopher and his friends embark on many adventures – Pooh searches for honey, Eeyore loose his tail and Pooh & Piglet hunt for a Heffalump.

An ode to childhood, this is Milne’s second collection of verses and poetry. Winnie-the-Pooh features in eleven poems as we see Christopher Robin grow up…“But now I am Six, I’m as clever as clever. So I think I’ll be six now for ever and ever!”

In this last book, we return to the 100 Acre Wood and here we are introduced to the bouncy Tigger! Christopher, Pooh and friends embark on more adventures and the game ‘Poohsticks’ is invented. At the end of the book, Christopher Robin is all grown up and is about to go to boarding school.

E.H. SHEPARD'S ILLUSTRATIONS

A.A. Milne’s text in the Winnie-the-Pooh books is inseparable from E.H. Shepard’s illustrations. When Milne started writing children’s poetry, the writer was reluctant to use Shepard but he was pleasantly surprised by Shepard’s artwork. Before the publication of ‘When We Were Very Young’, several poems along with Shepard’s illustrations were printed in Punch magazine and due to their popularity and success, Milne decided to use Shepard to illustrate his books. 

Shepard’s style of drawing is very naturalistic and exceptionally well observed. Preferring to draw from life, Shepard visited the Ashdown Forest multiple times to understand the look of local landscape and to sketch Christopher and his toys from life.

E.H Shepard, illustator of Winnie-the-Pooh

THE POOH BOOKS IN NUMBERS...

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One of the most successful children’s books in history, Winnie-the-Pooh has had last success.

Christopher Robin Milne Milne & Winnipeg

THE INSPIRATION

Where did the name Winnie the Pooh come?…

Well, the Milne family had a house in Chelsea, London and not too far from their home was London Zoo. Christopher Robin Milne on a number of occasions in the early 1920s visited the zoo and encountered a Black Bear called Winnipeg. 

Winnipeg had been given to London Zoo in December 1914 by a soldier called Sgt Harry Colebourn who was serving with the Royal Canadian Army Veterinary Corps. Colebourn had bought this orphaned bear cub at a station in White River, Canada, and he decided to name the bear cub after his adoptive home town of Winnipeg, Manitoba. Colebourne took Winnipeg, otherwise called Winnie, on his journey across Canada to Valcartier, Quebec where there was a training camp. From here the soldier and the bear cub travelled across the Atlantic to Salisbury Plains, England where Colebourn was due to be sent to serve on the frontline in France. However, he was unable to take Winnie with him to France so he decided to leave her at London Zoo. 

Winnipeg, who was a very tame bear, had a good life at the zoo and after the war ended, Colebourn decided to leave Winnie unable the capable care of the zoo. And some years later, a young boy by the name of Christopher took a shine to this particular bear, and decided to name his own teddy bear ‘Winnie’…

THE NAME 'POOH'

But what about ‘Pooh? Before the Milne family bought their country home on the edge of the Ashdown Forest, the young family holidayed at Decoy Cottage in West Cottage. By the cottage there were some ponds and here lived a swan, which little Christopher named Pooh. In the introduction to Winnie-the-Pooh, 1926, A.A. Milne explains “you may remember that he once had a swan (or the swan had Christopher Robin, I don’t know which) and that he used to call this swan Pooh. That was a long time ago, and when we said good-bye, we took the name with us, as we didn’t think the swan would want it any more. Well, when Edward Bear said that he would like an exciting name all to himself, Christopher Robin said at once, without stopping to think, that he was Winnie-the-Pooh. And he was.”

In 1925, A.A. Milne acquired Cotchford Farm, nestled on the edge of the Ashdown Forest. This became the family’s country home, visiting at weekends and during the holidays, to escape the hustle and bustle of London. Christopher Robin Milne loved exploring the local landscape, climbing trees and bring his toys outside to play with him (including his bear, now called Winnie-the-Pooh). Milne took inspiration from watching his son play outdoors which lead him to write the ‘Pooh’ books which so clearly references the local landscape. For example in Winnie-the-Pooh, 1926, Pooh climbs a tree is search of honey and inadvertently falls off a branch and into a gorse push, and anyone who has fallen into a gorse knows that this is not a particularly pleasant experience! Gorse is also one of the most prevalent plants on the forest with very distinctive yellow flowers. 

The Milne family in the garden at Cotchford Farm
Christopher Robin in Pooh's House
Christopher Robin with his mother Daphne Milne

‘We had the Forest almost entirely to ourselves. And this, in turn, made us feel that it was our Forest and so made it possible for an imaginary world – Pooh’s world – to be born within the real world. Pooh could never have stumped a Forest that was littered with picnic parties playing their transistor radios.’ 

– Christopher Milne, The Enchanted Places

Christopher Robin & Pooh in the Garden at Cotchford Farm
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