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Philbrook & Philbrook Downtown

Winnie-the-Pooh's World

Q&A with Kathryn Aalto

Garden historian, landscape designer, and acclaimed author, Kathryn Aalto travels from England to Tulsa this September for a can’t-miss Third Thursday program.

In anticipation of her talk, Kathryn answers a few questions about her bestselling book, The Natural World of Winnie-the-Pooh, and the real-life landscape that inspired the setting of the beloved children’s classic.

Philbrook: What inspired you to write this book?

KA: The book actually began nearly ten years ago when I moved to England with my husband and three children. How in the world would I raise my kids in a land that was so foreign and claustrophobic? I came across a book on walking in England, and before the jetlag wore off, we had clocked in around 20 miles on public footpaths. At the same time, I was also reading classic children’s literature aloud to my children to ground them in the big trans-Atlantic move. Amongst the books was A. A. Milne’s Winnie-the-Pooh stories. The Natural World of Winnie-the-Pooh originated from two simple questions: Is there a Hundred Acre Wood and can we walk there?

P: How much did the Winnie-the-Pooh books draw on real people and places?

KA: Christopher Robin was Daphne and A.A. Milne’s only child. Many of the stories in Winnie-the-Pooh and The House at Pooh Corner are inspired by Christopher Robin Milne’s explorations in the natural world around his home. The Hundred Acre Wood is the fictional name for the real Ashdown Forest and the Five Hundred Acre Wood, where he played in woods, streams, and heathlands. Cotchford Farm, their home, is still there and beautifully preserved, and that's where Milne watched his son play in an ancient walnut tree. That particular tree inspired the Winnie-the-Pooh stories.

P: What did you discover in your own wanderings in Ashdown Forest?

KA: Ashdown Forest is a fascinating, ancient place with a rich cultural history that shapes the landscape we see today. It’s what you call a “plagioclimax” landscape, meaning it is man-made and man-maintained.  If forest rangers didn’t bring in nibblers (sheep, ponies, cows) and cut down trees, it would revert to woodland.  Because it is now a coveted heathland attracting rare flora and fauna, it is highly protected.

P: What other children’s books inspired you as a child (or now as an adult)?

KA: I adore Kenneth Grahame’s The Wind in the Willows and my teenagers still enjoy me reading it aloud. As a child I was also inspired by classics my mother gave me to read, and those she read aloud, such as Little House on the Prairie and Charlotte’s Web.  One of the great joys of parenting has been reading aloud and suggesting titles, new and old, for my kids to read as they grow up.


Third Thursday: The Natural World of Winnie-the-Pooh

Thursday, Sept. 15

5:30 – 8 p.m.

Free for Philbrook Members

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