We began our last meeting with a discussion of the picture book, Finding Winnie by Lindsay Mattick and illustrated by Sophie Blackall. Although we all came prepared to say quite good things about this book, one of our members produced and then read aloud to us another book on the exact same subject/situation: Winnie: The True Story of the Bear who Inspired Winnie the Pooh, written & illustrated by Sally M. Walker. Wow! It ended up being a 'compare and contrast' discussion between these two terrific, but very different picture books which told the story of a real bear cub who was purchased for $20 in Canada, accompanied Harry Colebourn, a veterinarian for the Canadian army to a camp in Europe during World War I, and ended up in the London Zoo where she was discovered by Christopher Robin and his father A.A. Milne. We felt that the first book, presented as a story being told to Colebourn's toddler-looking great-great-grandson, Cole, was sweet in intention with some quite poetically written passages, but that the many interruptions where Cole's mom was actually telling him the story were annoying and broke the mood of the actual story of Winnie. In the second book the story was told in a matter-of-fact, well-written, linear style, and contained many more details about Harry and Winnie, and we felt it would be better understood by young readers or as a read-aloud. It also contained back matter that provided many more details, which the first book lacked. We liked the illustrations in both books for various reasons, although we felt that a couple by Blackall (in the first book) didn't maintain the same mood as some of her others did. We also liked the fact that both included a ' photo album' format: presenting actual photos of Harry, Winnie, the soldiers, C. Robin, and even Milne that gave complete credence to Winnie's story. Finally...we discussed the fact that when Winnie was in the London Zoo, children (including CR) were allowed to come into her cage and play with her!! This would obviously never happen today, and we talked about the concept of 'adopting' wild animals, and how this wasn't such a great idea for 'regular' people. A couple of people felt that there should have been a "don't try this at home" caveat. Verdict: two very different, but quite good books on an interesting subject.
We all liked the novel, A Crooked Kind of Perfect by Linda Urban. We felt that although the family in the story could have been perceived as dysfunctional, with an unemployed dad who didn't like to leave the house and was basically afraid of people, a workaholic mom, and the 11-year-old protagonist, Zoe, who pretty much had to fend for herself, the story was actually very positive as it showed how these three people loved, understood, and truly communicated with each other...although probably in quite nontraditional ways. We all agreed that at first we didn't much care about what was going on -- Zoe wanted a piano but got an old model electric organ; she entered a competition; she worried about whether her parents would attend; she had a weird friend who followed her home an hung out in the kitchen baking with her dad...etc., but that as the story developed, we began to care more and more about Zoe, and were all in her corner. We felt that Zoe's voice was authentic as she continually learned about getting along in the world, where although things aren't always what you hope for, they can end up good anyway. We loved the character of Wheeler, Zoe's schoolmate who had connected with her dad, and was almost a mentor/cheering section for him, and although one of our members thought it was completely predictable, we mostly liked the way the story ended with her getting a piano and her dad getting a job that he could handle. Pretty much positive feelings all around, and we enjoyed reading a book without a lot of angst and insoluble problems (for a change!)