Kathryn Aalto, author of The Natural World of Winnie-the-Pooh, tells us why she thinks time outdoors is crucial:
Few people know that the Hundred Acre Wood, the setting of Winnie-the-Pooh and The House at Pooh Corner, two of the most beloved children's books ever written, is based on a real landscape. It is called Ashdown Forest and is located 30 miles south of London.
A.A. Milne lived and wrote on the edge of the 6500 acre forest at Cotchford Farm with his wife, Daphne, and their only child, the real Christopher Robin. Heathland and atmospheric woodlands there look much as E. H. Shepard drew them in the nostalgic original books: trails and streams wind like ribbons through tall bracken, yellow gorse and purple heather where rare flora and fauna take refuge.
As we approach the 90th Anniversary of the first Winnie-the-Pooh, the stories take on greater meaning as classic literature does: opening up our hearts and minds through time to help us live well and tell us new things about ourselves.
Combined with Shepard's illustrations, the stories now feel like snapshots from a past we want to regain. At a time when there is so much talk about nature deficit disorder and the need for free-range childhoods, these stories about Christopher Robin and his chums -- Winnie-the-Pooh, Piglet, Eeyore, Rabbit, Owl, Tigger, Kanga and Roo -- remind us of the joy in letting our children explore the natural world away from the watchful eyes of parents.
But there is a story-behind-the-story. These tender adventures are not merely children's fiction: they were based on Milne's extraordinary childhood in the natural world, watching his son play outdoors and his own fertile imagination as a writer. His childhood was so important to him that he devotes nearly two-thirds to it in his autobiography, It's Too Late Now.
When he was young, his father used to say, "Keep out of doors as much as you can, and see all you can of nature: she has the most wonderful exhibition, always open and always free." He was especially close to his older brother, Ken, and expeditions and explorations defined their boyhoods. With long blond hair, the boys looked like twins and were together conspirators, adventurers and collectors. They amassed a massive assortment of butterflies, caught toads, wielded geological hammers and walked great distances. "We were inseparable," Milne recalled. Milne's first published writing was when he was eight years old. It was an account of an 18-mile walk he took in Ashdown Forest, the landscape that he would later immortalize.
Walking continued to be a lifelong joy for him. Many of the Hundred Acre Wood stories originated in the gardens at Cotchford Farm as well as the greater landscape where Milne and his family walked. These include Poohsticks Bridge, The Enchanted Place, Pooh's House, Owl's House, the Heffalump Trap, Rabbit's House, and the Bee Tree.
Next time you read Winnie-the-Pooh and The House at Pooh Corner to your kids or grandchildren (or to yourself!), consider the way these classics teach us that a "classic childhood" is one filled with expeditions in the natural world.
Kathryn Aalto is an American landscape designer, historian and writer living in Exeter, England and the author of THE NATURAL WORLD OF WINNIE-THE-POOH: A Walk Through the Forest that Inspired the Hundred Acre Wood. She has Master's degrees in Garden History and Creative Nonfiction with particular interests in literary landscapes. Avid walkers, she and her family walked the Coast to Coast Path across England in 2013. Take a look at her website or follow her on Twitter.
Here’s what people have said about it so far:
BBC Wildlife magazine ~ "An intimate guide to the forest’s history, geology, animals, colours and textures. Tantalizing descriptions and photographs invite us to slow our pace, look and listen."
Natalie, The Wild Network ~ "I adore this. It brings out some very nostalgiac feelings and powerful emotions. It's prompted us as a family to start reading full works of Winnie The Pooh again, together. This wonderful book is like reading Winnie The Pooh, but with a factual guide book alongside, recounting fascinating information about the real world. It makes Winnie The Pooh even more special, to identify those magical places."
Amy Stewart, author of The Drunken Botanist ~ "The enchantment of A. A. Milne's books comes from the world his characters inhabit. We all remember the Hundred Acre Wood as a place of delightful mishaps, silly misunderstandings, daring expeditions, and--of course--naps. It sounds idyllic, but The Natural World of Winnie-the-Pooh reminds us that the Hundred Acre Wood is quite real and very much alive. Everyone who loves Pooh and Piglet and Christopher Robin will cherish this behind-the-scenes exploration of A. A. Milne's world. Now I want to go to England and see it myself, but Kathryn Aalto reminds us that delightful mishaps and daring expeditions are possible anywhere, if we'll just go outside and find them."