Book Shelf: March 2017

Each month I will spotlight delightful titles and provide engaging activities to further extend the meaning of each book. I bring a 33-year teaching career, literacy expertise and a passion for creating joyful readers with every column I write.

Let’s get started! On a recent trip to London, I was reminded of two beloved literary bears….


While strolling through the world’s oldest scientific zoo, I thought about a time, 100 years ago, when young Christopher Robin and his dad were frequently at the very same place. One animal, in particular, a female Canadian bear named Winnie, captured the attention of Christopher Robin. In fact, the little boy loved the friendly black bear so much that he named his teddy bear after her. Indeed, it was a real-life bear at the London Zoo that provided the inspiration for A.A. Milne’s creation of the fictional character Winnie-the-Pooh. This “bear of very little brain” has held a special place in readers’ hearts for a century.

Finding Winnie: The True Story of the World’s Most Famous Bear received the coveted Caldecott Medal last year. In this delightful biography, framed as a bedtime story, Author Lindsay Mattick shares the story of her great-grandfather, Lieutenant Harry Colebourn, and the black bear cub he rescued at a train station en route to join his WWI regiment in Europe. Colebourn named the cub Winnie after his hometown, Winnipeg, Canada. She was extremely gentle and quickly become a beloved pet of the soldiers and a mascot of the regiment. When Harry left for battle, he took Winnie to the London Zoo where she would be safe. For additional behind-the-scenes information, I highly recommend this website:


The following day, I boarded a Cotswolds-bound train at London’s Paddington Station to take the 1½-hour journey to the land of castles, cobblestone streets and rolling hills. As I pulled away from the station, I thought about the fictitious, lovable brown bear, with his duffle coat, floppy hat and label around his neck that read, “Please Look after This Bear.” It is noteworthy that the classic tales of Paddington were actually inspired by a teddy bear author Michael Bond purchased for his wife as a Christmas present near the London train station in 1956. Children have loved the humorous adventures of the kindhearted bear who “tries so hard to get things right” for nearly 50 years!

A Bear Called Paddington is a new edition of the classic text first written by Michael Bond in 1958. Paddington, a stowaway from “Darkest Peru,” and named for the London train station in which Mr. and Mrs. Brown found him, has charmed readers for decades. This 2016 edition contains eight chapters (each chapter is a story that can stand alone) that recount the first few days of Paddington’s stay with the Brown family. Best known for his good intentions and humorous misadventures, the tales of this charming, marmalade-loving bear are a source of enjoyment for readers young and old. It is the perfect read-aloud!

Extension Activities:

Writing: Both books are based on acts of kindness. Develop a list of 10 acts of kindness with your child and then let them experience the joy that comes from serving and loving others (e.g. decorate the inside of your mailbox to bring a smile to the mail carrier’s face or place an encouraging note in a library book for the next reader to find). Children learn that when they follow their heart, they make a positive difference in the lives of others!

Cooking: Invite a friend or two (and their teddy bears, of course) to a teddy bear picnic!

It is always fun for children to cook. Bears like sweet things, and that makes orange marmalade the perfect treat. A recipe for orange marmalade cookies (what the British call biscuits) can be found at Of course, ready-to-eat or slice n’ bake sugar cookies with a side of marmalade is a great option, too.

Science and Art: Black bears like Winnie and the speckled bear Paddington was based on have many similarities and differences. Check out a few non-fiction books from the library or visit child-friendly websites to learn more about these two bears. What fun for your child to share the information by “talking like a bear,” using a bear puppet. To make a paper bag puppet, first draw a bear head, then color, cut and glue to the bottom of the folded bag.