“A world-famous yet hardly known literary landscape.” That’s how the author of a new book describes her subject – a place many people know of from their childhood (or, parenting or grand-parenting years). It was a place one could first visit in books, and then in Disney animation. That place is the Hundred Acre Wood of the Winnie-the-Pooh stories and cartoons. Such as has been done for Charlotte’s Web and the farm that story is situated in, landscape designer Kathyrn Aalto tells the story of how a real forest in England inspired the landscape in which Winnie-the-Pooh and his friends play and explore.
Kathryn Aalto, The Natural World of Winnie-the-Pooh: A Walk Through the Forest that Inspired the Hundred Acre Wood (Portland, OR: Timber Press, 2015), 308 pp.
Publisher’s description Delve into the home of the world’s most beloved bear! The Natural World of Winnie-the-Pooh explores the magical landscapes where Pooh, Christopher Robin, and their friends live and play. The Hundred Acre Wood—the setting for Winnie-the-Pooh’s adventures—was inspired by Ashdown Forest, a wildlife haven that spans more than 6,000 acres in southeast England. In the pages of this enchanting book you can visit the ancient black walnut tree on the edge of the forest that became Pooh’s house, go deep into the pine trees to find Poohsticks Bridge, and climb up to the top of the enchanted Galleons Lap, where Pooh says goodbye to Christopher Robin. You will discover how Milne’s childhood connection with nature and his role as a father influenced his famous stories, and how his close collaboration with illustrator E. H. Shepard brought those stories to life. This charming book also serves as a guide to the plants, animals, and places of the remarkable Ashdown Forest, whether you are visiting in person or from the comfort of your favorite armchair. In a delightful narrative, enriched with E. H. Shepard’s original illustrations, hundreds of color photographs, and Milne’s own words, you will rediscover your favorite characters and the magical place they called home.
A relatively recent study showed the children’s picture books are increasingly situating their stories in non-settings, and thus children are not learning through their time with books that spending time in natural environments should be normal. (The last couple of years, however, have seen many, many children’s books focused on kids in nature.) The stories and illustrations in classic Winnie-the-Pooh books brought young readers into a forest and showed them how to explore. And it is to stories such as those by A.A. Milne that we as parents or caregivers today can look in order to inspire new generations to open the front door and get outside. Aalto writes, “With these rising concerns over the nature of childhood itself, Milne’s books offer a reminder about the importance of freedom in nature” (p. 25).
Aalto digs deep into the history of the books, the lives of their author and illustrator, and provides the reader with an armchair visit to Ashdown Forest. The book is beautifully illustrated with drawings from the book and photographs of places, flora, and fauna. If I ever visit England again (I did in 2009 twice for school, having spent a day visiting Charles Darwin’s home in the village of Downe), hopefully with my family, we surely must visit the Hundred Acre Wood and toss sticks off the bridge that inspired the long-beloved outdoor game Poohsticks. Until then, I can find inspiration for getting outside with my kids in our local forests in Portland by flipping through the pages of The Natural World of Winnie-the-Pooh. And I hope you will, too. It makes you wonder whether where the natural places our kids play today – if they do – will inspire some creative endeavour.
Kathryn Aalto’s Facebook page