By MARG JACKSON
If you have ever wanted to toss sticks into the water from the Poohsticks Bridge or take a look at Roo’s Sandy Pit, now there’s a way to do it. Vicariously, of course, unless you plan on traveling to England sometime in the near future.
From Wrens Warren to The Enchanted Place, all the sights familiar to readers of the Winnie-the-Pooh stories have been captured in a book by Kathryn Aalto, raised in Escalon but now living in England. Her book “The Natural World of Winnie-the-Pooh” takes readers on a journey through Ashdown Forest in Southeast England, the forest that inspired many of the Pooh adventures. Pooh author A.A. Milne visited the forest with his own son, who served as the model for Christopher Robin.
A love of writing that began when she was a student at Dent Elementary School in Escalon has taken Aalto to many places, including the New York Times best-seller list.
“I always loved words, I always loved writing,” the 1986 Escalon High School graduate said when she recently visited her former elementary school to present two assemblies and do some impromptu book signings. It gave her the chance to share her book and her passion for writing, history and nature with students.
“It started here,” Aalto explained of her career. “Mrs. Blixt was my favorite teacher, my love of writing started there.”
She said teacher Blixt had a basket on her desk and students were encouraged to choose an item from that basket and do some descriptive writing about it.
Pointing to that as one of her favorite activities in class, Aalto said picking the items and writing whatever came to mind prompted her to wonder if she could somehow turn that into her life’s work.
“I wondered, ‘can I make a job writing pretty words?’,” Aalto reminisced.
As it turns out, she could.
It was that combined love of writing, blended with her fondness for nature and history, which paved the way for Aalto’s best-seller. Living in England, she was able to explore Ashdown Forest, the ‘Hundred-Acre Wood’ portrayed in the A.A. Milne classic. Her book takes readers on a walk through the real-life, yet somewhat enchanted forest, which covers more than 6,000 acres. Among the book’s 300-plus pages are 178 color photographs and more than 40 original illustrations, both color and black and white, from the ‘Pooh’ books by E.H. Shepard.
Aalto is also a landscape designer and has carved out a career doing the things she loves most.
“Life as a writer, some days it’s really hard work,” she admitted. “From 4:30 a.m. to 11 a.m. is the best writing time for me.”
She also said the book took her about two-and-a-half years to complete, start to finish, and is about 60,000 words.
Aalto said when she and her family moved to England about 10 years ago, they started to do a lot of walking.
“We have a legal right to roam,” she said of the country, and she used that to her advantage while researching her Hundred Acre Wood book.
She has written another book, has two more in the works, and also teaches at a university.
“It’s a book about the landscape, not Pooh,” she explained of her best-seller.
And while the book offers information and a tour of the real-life forest that so many associate with Pooh, Christopher Robin, Tigger and the crew, it has also touched a reverberating chord with its readers, who have heaped praise on the author.
Aalto believes it is nostalgia that has helped put her book – published just a little over a year ago – atop the NY Times list.
“It is quintessential childhood,” she said.