Review by C.J. Bunce

When you hear the name Winnie-the-Pooh, what comes to mind?  Phrases like “Oh, bother,” or “Let’s Begin by taking a smallish nap or two”?  For many it’s the images of Pooh and his friends, images that have been around now for ninety years.  Never out of print, the original four books by author A.A. Milne make up a finite set of the stories of the original animal friends of Christopher Robin from the Hundred Acre Wood.  Milne is also who we first think of when we think of these stories, yet as much of Pooh is owed to the drawings and coordination with artist E.H. Shepard, who continued to draw images for new editions and authorized derivative works of Pooh and Friends for 50 years after Milne wrote his last Pooh story.  Shepard is the subject of a new book, The Art of Winnie the Pooh: How E.H. Shepard Illustrated an Icon, written by James Campbell.

The Art of Winnie-the-Pooh is a bit of a family story.  Campbell, author of a previous account of Shepard’s days in World War I called Shepard’s War, is married to Shepard’s great-granddaughter and manages the Shepard artistic and literary estate.  Minette Shepard, the artist’s granddaughter, provides a foreword to the book.  As a child in the 1940s, she was the caretaker of Growler–the original Teddy bear that inspired the look of Pooh we know today.  Fans of the four Winnie-the-Pooh books: When We Were Very Young, Winnie-the-Pooh, Now We Are Six, and The House at Pooh Corner, have long known the story of Milne’s son Christopher Robin Milne and his toys as the inspiration for the stories.  Yet the wider story reveals a working relationship between two creators in a manner not common for the era, and an artist who used his own son, Graham, as much as Milne’s son for his imagery.  Known nearly as well for his famous illustrations of Kenneth Grahame’s The Wind in the Willows, Shepard’s story is a chronicle of a long lifetime of artistry, duty, ups and downs, and a legacy for generations of children and adults alike.

The Winnie-the-Pooh books are one of the earliest examples of a writer and artist working together on a book.  When first published in 1924, publishers typically brought in artists to add images throughout a book after the text had been completed.  That changed with Milne and Shepard, particularly so after the immediate success of the first book.  As Campbell sees it, “Shepard and Milne had torn up the rulebook and made the public look at literature, and particularly children’s literature, in a different way.  Rather than reading to children the books inspired authors to write for children, and in the period up to the Second World War, this opportunity for adults and children to sit and enjoy books together grew rapidly.”  Collaboration became key to the appeal of these books, both the writing and the pictures, and although the publishing industry to this day continues to default regularly to keeping a wall between authors and illustrators, the ready combination of the two can be seen throughout the various niches of children’s picture books, comic books, and graphic novels.

Continue reading

Advertisements