Today is the 140th anniversary of author, poet, and playwright A.A. Milne’s birthday. He was born January 18, 1882 and died on January 31, 1956, at the age of 74. He is most remembered for writing the beloved classic, Winnie-the-Pooh.
Alan Alexander Milne was born in Hampstead, London. He attended the Westminster School of London, then attended Cambridge University on a mathematics scholarship. He began his career writing for Punch, a British literary magazine, to which he submitted essays and poetry for almost a decade. In 1913, He married his wife, Dorothy de Sélincourt, with whom he had one son, Christopher Robin Milne, in 1920. Milne served in World War I and World War II, first as a second lieutenant in the British Army, and then as a captain in the British Home Guard.
Winnie-the-Pooh was published in 1926. Milne’s famous stories featured characters based on his son, who was the inspiration for Pooh’s best friend, Christopher Robin, and his son’s stuffed animals. The Hundred Acre Woods, where Pooh’s adventures take place, was based on the 500 Acre Woods near Milne’s home, where he and his son would have their own adventures. The books were sold to the Walt Disney Company after Milne’s death, who adapted the stories into several movies, television shows, and corresponding merchandise.
A few years after Winnie-the-Pooh was published, Milne began to resent the fame that it brought on him and his family. He didn’t want to be boxed into writing a certain type of book, but after the popularity of his children’s books, more Pooh was all anyone wanted to read from him. He also regretted the attention the books brought on his son, Christopher Robin. He stated, “I feel that the legal Christopher Robin has already had more publicity than I want for him. I do not want CR Milne to ever wish that his name was Charles Robert.” His son also resented this attention, as the legacy of Christopher Robin and Pooh Bear followed him all throughout his life, making it difficult for him to make a name as his own person. In his memoir, The Enchanted Places, Christopher Robin said,
“In pessimistic moments, when I was trudging London in search of an employer wanting to make use of such talents as I could offer, it seemed to me, almost, that my father had got to where he was by climbing upon my infant shoulders, that he had filched from me my good name and had left me with nothing but the empty fame of being his son.”
I read Winnie-the-Pooh and The House at Pooh Corner out loud to my 5 year old son during the summer of 2020. More than any chapter book I’ve ever read to him, Winnie-the-Pooh wholly captivated his attention. He actually sat next to me to listen to the stories about Pooh Bear and his friends, even on the pages where there were no pictures. It was a delightful reading experience. If ever I were to bet on a book that could not possibly be challenged or banned, it would be Winnie-the-Pooh.
And I would lose that bet.
Though not a victim of frequent challenges, the lovable bear has seen a handful of complaints tossed his way. Most of these challenges have taken place in other countries. In 2009, Russian authorities banned Winnie-the-Pooh for being pro-Nazi, after an image of Pooh with a swastika was discovered amongst an extremist’s collection. In the United Kingdom, the book was banned from public schools, as the character Piglet might offend Muslim and Jewish students who abstain from pork for religious reasons. And in Kansas, a parent group attempted to ban the book due to the talking animals because they are against nature and therefore, an affront to God. While not the most head-scratcher of a reason I’ve heard for banning a book (that honor belongs to The Diary of Anne Frank, because it was “a real downer”), it ranks up there amongst the top in terms of ridiculousness.
I hope we can all agree that this world needs some childlike innocence, especially after the hardship that the last two years have wrought. Let’s also agree to let the children (and hey, adults too) have the Hundred Acre Wood, where Christopher Robin plays, with Eeyore, Kanga, little Roo, Rabbit, Piglet, Owl, and, most of all, Winnie the Pooh. I recommend the reading experience 100%.
Happy Birthday, A.A. Milne!
Rebecca holds an MLIS from the University of North Texas and is a former teacher and school library consultant. Though not currently working in a library, she continues to fight against censorship and advocate for intellectual freedom rights, especially for children’s literature. When she’s not wrangling her three children, Rebecca enjoys reading, running, writing, and roaming the world.