When We Were Very Young is a collection of children's poems by A.A. Milne, first published in 1924. The first edition is illustrated with black and white line drawings by E.H. Shepard, who would later go on to illustrate Milne's Winnie-the-Pooh, Now We Are Six and The House at Pooh Corner and Kenneth Grahame's The Wind in the Willows. Shepard's illustrations have been colorized in some more recent editions. The book is dedicated to Milne's son Christopher Robin Milne, who is referred to by name in four poems in the book.
In an introduction, called "Just Before We Begin", Milne says that Christopher Robin was the inspiration for all of the poems in the book. According to the introduction, Milne first got the idea to write some poems when he went with his son to feed a swan that Christopher Robin had named Pooh. Milne noticed that cows always went down to the lake where Pooh lived, that cows say "moo" and that "moo" rhymes with "Pooh". However, Milne says that eventually, "the poem came quite different from what I intended". Indeed, the only poem in the collection that features a swan, "The Mirror", does not include the words "Pooh" or "moo" and makes no reference to cows.
Milne explains in the introduction that some poems are written from his point of view, some from that of Christopher Robin, some from that of another boy or girl and some from that of Hoo. Milne says that Hoo is "one of those curious children who looks four on Monday, eight on Tuesday and are really twenty-eight on Saturday."
There are a total of forty-five poems in the collection. The best known of them are "Buckingham Palace" ("There changing guards at Buckingham Palace - Christopher Robin went down with Alice"), "Happiness" ("John had a, Great Big, Waterproof, Mackintosh - And that, (Said John) Is, That"), "Lines and Squares" (about the bears who eat people who step on the cracks between paving stones on the sidewalk), "The King's Breakfast" (in which a cow suggests that the king spread marmalade on his bread instead of butter), "Halfway Down" ("I'm not at the bottom, I'm not at the top; So this is the stair, Where I always, Stop") and "Vespers" ("Hush! Hush! Whisper who dares! Christopher Robin is saying his prayers").
The book is notable for containing Milne's first writings about his son's toy stuffed bear and Shepard's first published illustrations of that same bear. The character would later become famous as Winnie-the-Pooh but in 1924 he was still known as Edward Bear. In the poem "Teddy Bear", the bear is at first unhappy that he does not have the opportunity to exercise and lose weight. He cheers up when he sees a picture in a book of a fat man, identified as the king of France "King Louis So and So, Nicknamed 'The Handsome'". The bear is worried that King Louis might be dead and that his look could have gone out of fashion. When he finds out that the overweight but handsome king is still alive, the bear is happily resigned to being fat. This would continue to be part of Winnie-the-Pooh's character in the later books about him. In Winnie-the-Pooh, he does stoutness exercises instead of fitness exercises.
- Text of A.A. Milne's When We Were Very Young on Bibliowiki. The anthology is in the public domain in Canada but is still under copyright in the United Kingdom and the United States.
- Quotations from When We Were Very Young on Wikiquote.