Wednesday, May 13, 2015


Winnie-the-Pooh and, much more recently, Ivan the gorilla have become beloved children's book characters. But both characters were also based on real-life animals, and the books Winnie: The True Story of the Bear Who Inspired Winnie-the-Pooh by Sally M. Walker and Ivan: the Remarkable True Story of the Shopping Mall Gorilla by Katherine Applegate tell the little-known stories behind the celebrated ones.

The story of Winnie (originally named Winnipeg) begins with an army veterinarian in Canada who finds her at a train station and buys him from a man for $20. The bear shadows the vet as he works in army camps, endearing herself to all the soldiers, but after war breaks out, Winnie must begin her life at the London Zoo. It is there where a young boy named Christopher Robin and his author father meet Winnie, and so begins idea for one of the most beloved children's book characters of all time. Walker's story is engaging and gently told, and historic photographs of the real Winnie and her life in the army on the endpapers supplement the sweetly charming watercolor illustrations by Jonathan D. Voss throughout the story.

Though the story of Ivan the gorilla's time spent as a spectacle in a shopping-mall display is much newer to young readers, it has also captured their imaginations in a big way, and the children's novel The One and Only Ivan won Applegate the Newbery Award in 2013. Now she has turned to the non-fiction picture book to tell Ivan's story for children too young for the award-winning novel and provide extra background for those who loved it and want to know more. The warm and delightful artwork by G. Brian Karas pairs nicely with Applegate's simple but evocative words, and will pull young readers as they learn all about the esteemed gorilla's life from wild to shopping mall to zoo.

Both animal biographies are ideal for first graders and up.  

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