Return to the Hundred Acre Wood is an “authorized” sequel to The House at Pooh Corner, written under the imprimatur of A. A. Milne’s estate. All the familiar characters reappear, little changed. Indeed, they are confined to previously established traits and habits — Piglet’s nose blushes, Pooh sits on someone inadvertently, and so on, much as before. But the surrogate author, David Benedictus, is wise not to develop these beloved figures. Instead, he introduces a new face, a bumptious otter called Lottie, who keeps the narrative rolling. Christopher Robin is a little older, and events are proportionately more grown up. He organizes a spelling bee, a cricket match, and a harvest festival. In terms of charm, these goings-on can’t compete with a game of Pooh sticks. But what could?
The illustrations are attractive, if a bit pallid compared with E. H. Shepherd’s drawings. Still, child fans should be pleased. It’s the adults who risk disappointment. Older readers encountered Pooh as children. For them the stories are layered in sentiment: from their childhood, from their children’s reading, and from the ghostly presence of the real Christopher Robin for whom the first stories were written. Milne understood the special power of a lost childhood’s artifacts. At the end of The House at Pooh Corner, Christopher Robin explains to an uncomprehending Pooh that every boy will one day forget his cherished bear, but their friendship is nonetheless real and precious. It’s a poignant moment, touching on the unfathomable divide between childhood and the adult world–a distance Milne’s stories can almost bridge. Adults will sneer at a new addition to the Pooh canon. On their terms, they’re right to. But that’s no reason kids shouldn’t enjoy Return to the Hundred Acre Wood.