The Complete Tales of Winnie-the-Pooh Introduction
In A Nutshell
Fuzzy fluffy Pooh Bear. He's sooo CUTE! We just want to squEEEze him!
Okay, we've got that mostly out of our system. But some of that cuddle-craving will live on inside of us forever, which is partly why the tales of Winnie-the-Pooh have resonated with so many generations of children since the two books were first published back in 1926 and 1928.
Beyond the cuteness—seriously, you've got to look beyond the cuteness—Winnie-the-Pooh is a remarkably complex book that has as much to say to adults as it does to kids. You see, A.A. Milne wasn't just any old writer. He graduated from Cambridge in 1903 and became a writer and editor for a humor magazine called Punch. Think The Onion crossed with McSweeney's wrapped up in the funny pages (minus The Family Circus) and you've got a pretty good idea. He was also a successful playwright, and served as an officer in the British army during World War I.
It wasn't until he and his wife Daphne had their own child, Christopher Robin, that he began writing for a child audience. And how lucky for us that he did. The Pooh stories were met with immediate commercial and critical success and were turned into a merchandising mega-hit in the early 1930s when a guy named Stephen Slesinger bought the rights to produce dolls, radio broadcasts, games…you name it, he made it. By the time Disney got their hands on Pooh Bear in 1961, he was already the center of a multimillion-dollar-a-year industry.
Not bad for a Bear with Very Little Brain.
Pooh has been cemented in our pop-culture minds thanks to the continuous cranking-out of new products, but there's nothing quite like the original. Here at Shmoop, we're taking you back to the roots, back to the genius literary work that made our friend bear so famous in the first place, back to that place in the Forest where "a little boy and his Bear will always be playing." (House.10.78).
Why Should I Care?
Because the president cares.
No, that's not just a campaign slogan. Early childhood education has come into the limelight as of late, and for good reason. Thanks to shifting needs in industry, a desire for innovation, and a little thing called the Internet, we've been forced to question the traditional ways in which we teach children. We won't get into it all here, but suffice it to say that there's been a big push—both from policy makers and from our culture in general—for kids to be academically successful early. One "solution" has been an increased emphasis on standardized testing. People have a lot to say about this topic, and we think Milne would too.
In fact, the tales of Winnie-the-Pooh offer a stalwart argument against systematic instruction at an early age. For kids as young as two (that's younger than Piglet, for crying out loud), there are programs out there that claim to teach children to read with little to no effort and only a few fistfuls of dollars. Milne's world lets us see what children stand to lose if we take away the freedom to play and do "Nothing."
Now, we here at Shmoop are all about education. Duh. And we know you are, too, because you're here. But it's important to think about all the things kids have to learn when they're really young, and reading and writing and computer coding are only a few of the many. They also need to learn to be empathetic, considerate, assertive, respectful, and all sort of other things that we tend not to teach directly in schools.
So how will kids learn these things? Does early structured education detract from learning social and emotional skills? Well, Shmoop doesn't have the answers to these questions. These are some of those questions that don't really have a right answer, like "why are we here?" "what separates us from other animals?" or "who should get Tim Gunn's special save on Project Runway?"
We just don't know, and we could debate it forever.
What matters is having something to say in the debate, and Milne's classic and nostalgic view of what childhood used to be—what is beautiful about youth—gives us some good talking points.