It was the end of 1925, and Christmas was just around the corner. Alan Milne’s wife and son were getting ready for the holiday, but Mr. Milne was distracted. He had been asked to write a children’s story for the Evening News, a newspaper in London, England, and he was struggling to come up with an idea. Known for writing plays and novels, he thought of himself as a “serious” writer, but he agreed to write one children’s story for the Christmas edition of the paper.
His wife, Daphne, told him that it was easy—-all he needed to do was write down any of the bedtime stories he told their son, Christopher Robin. Alan, who wrote under the name “A. A. Milne,” was a fantastic storyteller and told his son tales of dragons, giants, and magic rings almost every night. But there was one story about a boy and his teddy bear that he thought people might find especially interesting.
So he got right to work, writing down the familiar bedtime story. He decided to name the boy in the story Christopher Robin, after his son. As for the bear, Christopher Robin had a teddy bear named Edward Bear. Could Alan use that name, also? No, it was too ordinary. He wanted the bear in his story to have a more unusual, silly, and memorable name. He named the bear Winnie--the--Pooh. And although he didn’t know it yet, this bear would soon become the most famous and loved bear in children’s literature.
Chapter 1 Meet the Milnes
Alan Milne, aged two and a half, quietly played with his toys while his older brothers, Barry and Ken, aged five and almost four, were in the middle of a reading lesson. Their father came to check on the older boys and their studies. He pointed to a word on the blackboard in front of them and asked his sons to read it aloud. The two boys were silent—-they hadn’t been paying attention to the lesson. But from the corner of the room, their younger brother answered, “I can do it.” Their father pointed to the word again. “Cat,” Alan said. Mr. Milne smiled at his youngest son. The boy was right.
Alan Alexander Milne was born in London, England, on January 18, 1882. His mother had been a teacher, and his father ran a school for boys called Henley House. Education was an important part of the Milnes’ lives—-they even lived in the same building as Henley House.
John Milne was a kind and caring teacher. He wanted his students to learn as much as they could and have fun, too. Most boys started at the school when they were seven years old, including his sons Ken and Barry. But Alan was ready to start school when he was just six years old. The three brothers were all good students, but Alan was the brightest.
Alan was very excited to be at school with his brothers, especially Ken, whom he looked up to. The two were very close and did almost everything together. While their father made sure they did their schoolwork, he also encouraged them to “keep out of doors as much as you can, and see all you can of nature.” And that’s exactly what the brothers did. They went for long walks and bike rides, and they shared all their secrets. Sometimes they would even pretend they were the only people left on Earth and were free to do whatever they wanted. They let their imaginations run wild.
When Alan was seven years old, a new teacher came to teach science and math at Henley House. H. G. Wells would later become one of the world’s most famous science--fiction writers. But at Henley House, he challenged the young boys to solve difficult math problems and research interesting science topics. He helped Alan discover a love of math.
But math wasn’t the only thing Alan focused on at Henley House. The school published a magazine, and he began writing articles for it when he was nine years old. His stories were about the things he knew best: climbing trees, chasing butterflies, running through fields, and taking long walks in the woods. Writing allowed him to use his imagination. Although he loved math, he realized he liked writing as well . . . maybe even more.
Chapter 2 Star Student
Alan loved being at Henley House with Ken. It made school much more fun. But when Ken won a scholarship to go to Westminster School, he would leave his younger brother behind. Alan disliked being apart from his older brother and best friend, and he asked his parents if he could join Ken. But he was too young to go to Westminster, and his parents couldn’t afford to send him there.
Alan was determined to get to Westminster, but like Ken, he would need a scholarship. He studied his hardest for the entrance exam . . . and he passed! At just eleven years old, he was the youngest student to earn a math scholarship to Westminster. It was a wonderful honor, and he was proud to move up two grades, but what he was most excited about was that he would be with his brother again.
Alan brought his love of writing with him to his new school, but Westminster didn’t have many classes for him to explore writing or literature, so he took to the library instead. There he read books by Charles Dickens and Jane Austen and plays by William Shakespeare. His math scholarship got him to Westminster, but it wasn’t long before he realized he’d rather spend his time writing and reading.
In 1898, it was time for Ken to graduate and begin training for a job. This was the first time the brothers would be apart. Alan would miss Ken, but they promised to write letters to each other. In their letters, they made up funny stories and rhymes. This gave Alan an idea: Their writing would be perfect for the Westminster school paper.
One day, he found a copy of the Granta, a magazine published by students at Cambridge University. It was a highly respected and very popular magazine that covered everything from politics to humor to literary fiction. Alan had
never seen a magazine like this before, and he read it over and over again. He decided then that he would go to Cambridge and become the editor of the Granta. As editor, he would be in charge of the magazine. Not only would he get to choose which pieces would be published, but he would get to publish his own writing, as well. It would be the perfect first step to becoming a real writer.
Alan knew his parents couldn’t afford to send him to Cambridge. However, he had set his sights on a goal, and he was determined to follow his dreams. If he had found a way to go to Westminster, he would find a way to go to Cambridge.
Copyright © 2021 by Sarah Fabiny; Illustrated by Gregory Copeland. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.