Discerning Reader Editorial Review
Reviewed 01/02/2011 by Mark Tubbs.
Recommended. A new installment in the Winnie-the-Pooh Collection in every way equal to its venerable predecessors.
Does it sometimes seem to you, as it often seems to me, that there exists very little of the "classic" type of children's stories? I grew up on Winnie-the-Pooh, Swallows and Amazons, and the terribly politically incorrect Famous Five and Secret Seven of Enid Blyton. I recall reading the Wind in the Willows, Basil the Great Mouse Detective, and Rupert Bear. All of the above are as British as they come. But I have lately discovered, much to my delight, that the age of classic children's literature is not ended, thanks to Return to the Hundred Acre Wood by David Benedictus.
Sequels are notoriously unpredictable in matching the originals on which they are based. Not this time. The responsibility for penning and "decorating" (yes, there are pictures) this newest installment Pooh were carefully placed in the hands of David Benedictus and Mark Burgess, respectively. The opening pages make much of the close involvement of the Trustees of the Pooh Properties Trust and the book being "in the tradition of A.A. Milne and Ernest H. Shepard." Having watched the Disney DVD A Merry Pooh Year today with my children, I am all the more thankful for Dutton's intent to remain true to the original Winnie-the-Pooh vision.
As to the stories themselves, I don't want to spoil them for you. But I will make special notes of my favorite and the least successful one, in my humble opinion. My favorite chapter is the one in which Pooh goes in search of honey. If it sounds a predictable and simplistic theme for a Pooh story, you may be correct, but Benedictus admirably achieves that mix of innocence, ignorance and intelligence so characteristic of Pooh. The use of irony is so gentle but potent that it puts to shame much of what commonly passes for literary irony in contemporary writing. My least favorite chapter is the one about cricket, and I derive from British stock! If you don't already understand cricket in any great way, then the animals' failed attempts to understand it may only serve to confuse you further. I should also mention that Eeyore and Owl play very prominent roles in these stories. If you enjoy those two characters, these stories should interest you especially.
To confess fully, I did have an ulterior motive in reading through this book with my son. I consciously used it to lead up to the Chronicles of Narnia. I figured that if my 6 year-old son could handle the vocabulary and the style, then he would be ready for the otherworld of Narnia. To my delight, I was right. Sure enough, we read the final section of Return to the Hundred Acre Wood and...well, here is the final section:
Pooh and Piglet walked home through the moonlit wood.
"I wonder why things have to change," murmured Piglet.
Pooh thought for a while, then said, "It gives them a chance to get better."
So off they went, together. And if you pass by the Hundred Acre Wood on an early autumn evening, you might see them, arm in arm, strolling contentedly under the trees, until they are swallowed up the mist.
We read the final section, sat silently for a few pregnant seconds, then my son looked up at me with a wistful smile and the smallest groan escaped his lips, as if to say "I don't want to leave the Hundred Acre Wood." What he really said was, "Can we read it again?"
Perhaps, son. But first let's take a trip to Narnia.