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In Which Winnie-the-Pooh Is Improved

I'm about to commit a heresy of epic levels. A heresy of literary, parenting, and pop culture values...

I don't like Winnie-the-Pooh.

There, I said it. I should clarify here that, for all the moaning and whining that people--everybody, really--does about Disney "ruining" good stories, their children, and society at-large, I think Winnie-the-Pooh is one of the few books they probably helped. They turned a mediocre, boring, poorly-written, too-cute children's tale into a beloved icon. Disney is good at that, after all.

My problem with Winnie-the-Pooh is this. And I just gave it a chance by bringing the complete works home from the library to read aloud, so this is fresh for me. My problem is that it's not a very good book to read aloud to your children. The language is stumbling and lacks flow. There are too many aside explanations that ruin the story for the little ones. It attempts to deal with both the real world and the fictional world at the same time making for confusion.

And by the time you're old enough to read the stories on your own, you're too old to be reading Winnie-the-Pooh. I fear it's mostly a work of nostalgia in the other sense that older children and adults lovingly look back on their time with Pooh and feel longing for childhood. The characters are cute, indeed. But the movie, Disney version does a much better job of keeping them connected, coherently "in character" and adding life to what, in print, is a blabbering British author who chooses words like a kid fumbling in the cookie jar.

Perhaps that's the point? I do understand the appeal of characters who aren't quite sure why they exist, what they are saying, or what they're doing, or where they're going. Is it a metaphor? If there are lessons to be learned they are difficult to find. For the under 4 set, definitely less "in your face" than the values of Thomas and Friends. I'd argue that Pooh really has more in common with Curious George (another terrible children's book) in that the original is dated and perhaps didn't stand up well but was enjoyed enough to get a second life.

Ok, ok, I'm being overly harsh on our friend A. A. Milne. I'm not really critiquing his writing skills here maybe. I suppose what I'm really trying to harness is the way that my children respond to the characters themselves--in their better version--and the utter disappointment when one opens the original work to be bored and find it dull.

Books don't usually work that way, no? To the contrary, I suppose this post is also about the very, very fine quality children's literature being written today. As we speak. Better than Winnie-the-Pooh. What does that say? Classics are classics. But I wish I'd been keeping a better list of books my kids really love. I mean really, really love. Ones I enjoy, too! A good book is a beautiful thing.

For us, we'll be watching the video instead.

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