I grew up just a stone’s throw away from Hartfield in West Sussex, where the stories of Winnie the Pooh and his friends were created. If you remember, earlier this year when I was back in England, I even played the characters’ favourite game, Pooh Sticks, at the bridge that inspired it. And even though I’m now living thousands of miles away, today I could still get a little taste of home by visiting the New York Library – where the original toys are kept.
I actually first learned the stuffed animals – Pooh, Tigger, Kanga, Eeyore and Piglet – were here when I visited the gift shop back in Hartfield. When I told the cashier that I lived here, she nearly imploded with excitement and urged me to visit the toys at some point. Five months later, I finally got around to it.
The animals were gifted to the library by A. A. Milne’s publishers in 1987 and now they’re on permanent display in the Children’s Library on 42nd Street and 5th Avenue. When I arrived to meet them, I discovered they were on loan to an exhibition about children’s books upstairs in the library – which was an added bonus because it took me through this beautiful building once again.
Once up there, I found the Winnie the Pooh toys at the back of the exhibit. They’re a little more thread-bear than their storybook counterparts and don’t look too similar. Piglet was particularly funny – it was this little flat runt of a toy. But Eeyore looked like the real thing – he kept avoiding looking at my camera.
When I was there, I learned that these stuffed toys were the inspiration behind the books. A. A. Milne gave Pooh to his son, Christopher Robin Milne, in 1921 for his first birthday and the other toys followed soon after. Pooh was bought at Harrods which, for those not familiar, is this very posh, very expensive department store in London. So I’m glad to see that – even though he’s a little rough around the edges – Pooh is in good shape and worth the small fortune he no doubt cost.
The toys were handed over to his publishers here in the States in 1947 before eventually making their way to the library. And now they’re no doubt seen by thousands of children every year. (I hope children these days know who they are.)
After I’d said hello, I wandered around the rest of the exhibit and spied some original Wizard of Oz and Babar artworks. But it was the pages from the first Songs of Innocence by William Blake that really got me excited. I studied these poem at university and always admired the artwork, which Blake illustrated himself. They were nestled in this wall – and I had no idea they were so tiny.
The exhibit was an extra bonus, but I’m glad I made the trip to see Pooh and his friends. What beauties.