The stories about Winnie-the-Pooh, Christopher Robin, and their friends are probably best known today through the Disney films, television show, and spin-off picture books and merchandising. However, the original books became childhood classics almost as soon as they were published (Winnie-the-Pooh in 1926 and The House At Pooh Corner in 1928). A.A. Milne was a professional writer who began telling stories to his son Christopher Robin about adventures with his toys, and decided to publish them. The first book begins with the framing device of a father telling his son a story, and you can still see that voice in the “Contradiction” at the beginning of The House At Pooh Corner and in some moments when the narrative voice becomes more clearer (for example, the end of Chapter II, “Which explains why he always lived at Kanga’s house afterwards, and had Extract of Malt for breakfast, dinner, and tea.” (37)). (In case you’re wondering, I chose the second book for us to read because it includes Tigger and brings up interesting themes.)

These stories are toy fantasy – they imagine toys as interactive and alive (The Velveteen Rabbit is another example). This kind of fantasy is very appealing to children, who engage imaginatively with their own toys.  Animal fantasy is similar – think of The Wind in the Willows or Charlotte’s Web. The difference of course is that Winnie the Pooh and his friends are all Christopher Robin’s toys, not “real” animals.

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The appeal for adults reading to children is partly the gentle humor, partly the use of a figurative language style that includes some child-like mistakes (like “heffalump” for elephant), but mostly the nostalgia for the imagination and innocence of early childhood. (Look for what takes up more of Christopher Robin’s time at the end of the book – ask if you’re not sure.) We see Christopher Robin and his companions exploring (Links to an external site.) the woods near to home and making sense of things (that seem perfectly ordinary to adults) in inventive ways. Ashdown Forest (Links to an external site.), the model for the Hundred-Acre Wood, is popular with visitors who want to enter that world. This attraction underlies the recent film Christopher Robin,  (Links to an external site.)which imagines a grown-up Christopher Robin reunited with his childhood toys and rejuvenated by their new adventures together.

The House At Pooh Corner is an illustrated book – it has frequent drawings interspersed with the text, but not as frequent as picture books (which, since Caldecott and Beatrix Potter, either have more images than words or balance them side-by-side in each page opening). This book has an interesting interplay of text and images – sometimes they’re integrated, as on page 84 (in “Rabbit’s Busy Day”), where we see Pooh’s explanation illustrated step-by-step. Notice, too, how Shepard draws the toy characters to look like toys (instead of like real animals) even as Milne’s text presents them in a more naturalistic way.

Discussion assignment 3

The House At Pooh Corner

  1. The novel takes the form of loosely connected, sequential stories. Which story is your favorite, and why?
  2. What image or figure of speech or child-like phrasing do you want to highlight for all of us, and why?
  3. Choose one of the toy characters, and discuss how its personality might appeal to a child.
  4. What do you think are the issues or themes at play in The House at Pooh Corner? How might they relate to what children (about 4-7 years old) experience?

After you’ve answered these questions, please respond to a point from a classmate.


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