Books And More

Finding Winnie Illustrator Wins Caldecott

Caldecott Medal winner Sophie Blackall talks to TFK about her award-winning book

January 15, 2016

Sophie Blackall won the 2016 Caldecott Medal for Finding Winnie: The True Story of the World's Most Famous Bear.

Illustrator Sophie Blackall won the 2015 Randolph Caldecott Medal for Finding Winnie: The True Story of the World’s Most Famous Bear. The story, written by Lindsay Mattick, tells the true tale of the black bear named Winnie who inspired Winnie-the-Pooh. Winnie was rescued by a Canadian soldier named Harry Colebourn as he traveled to Europe during World War I. Eventually the bear ended up in the London Zoo, where the writer A.A. Milne and his son Christopher Robin visited her often.

The Caldecott award is given every year to the best American picture book for children. Blackall spoke with TFK from her home in Brooklyn, New York, on the day she received the award.


How did it feel to get the call today that you had won the Caldecott Medal?


It was amazing! Every picture book illustrator has a flicker of hope that maybe they should put the phone next to their bed, but I had given up any thought that I would get that call. And then, when I had give up, my phone rang. It’s such a huge honor, and it was so unexpected.


What kind of research did you do to make the illustrations for this book?


I spent about a year doing research, and it felt like I was spending a year with Harry, Winnie, Christopher Robin, and Winnie the Pooh. I went to the United Kingdom, and followed in the footsteps that Harry and Winnie took to London. I looked at the archives of the zoo where Winnie lived and saw the records of the day she arrived there in 1914. I threw myself deep into the research.


Were you a fan of Winnie the Pooh as a child?


I was an obsessive fan. Winnie the Pooh was the very first book that I bought with my own money when I was 7 years old. It was an antique copy of the original book. I reread the original Winnie the Pooh books recently. They are so funny, wise, and hilarious. I think the stars were aligned when my editor brought me this project. It felt like it was meant to be.


What do you think kids will like about this book?


I think kids will love that it’s a true story, and that a man and a bear were friends. They got to sleep cuddled up together. Kids will feel the heartbreak of separation when Harry has to go in the trenches during the war. They will relate to the joy that Christopher has riding on a bear.


Is it very different to illustrate nonfiction books and fiction books?


Yes, it is a completely different process. They are both wonderful. In fiction you have the freedom to make things up. For a story like this, you become a detective. You want to find clues and evidence. Everything is like a treasure hunt. It’s so fantastic and exciting.

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