Who would ever think that anything as innocent and naive as Winnie the Pooh could cause an international incident. But he has.

As reported in Publisher's Weekly, Reuters and the Associated Press, this is what the brouhaha is about: Winnie and friends, Tigger, Kanga, Eeyore and Piglet, are stuffed toys that A.A. Milne bought for his son, Christopher, in 1920. They became the inspiration for the immortal stories "Winnie the Pooh" and "The House at Pooh Corner," as well as E.H. Shepard's illustrations for both books.In 1947 Milne sent the animals on a promotional trip to New York City with E.P. Dutton, the U.S. publisher of the Pooh stories. "When the decision was to be made about returning Pooh to England," said Karen Potz, publisher of Dutton Books for children, "Milne said that he wanted Dutton to have the bear. He even sent a birth certificate for him."

After Milne's death in 1956, Dutton purchased the toys, and they have resided in a climate-controlled glass case at the New York Public Library's Donnell Library Center in Manhattan ever since. Christopher Milne, for whom the stories were written 36 years previously, agreed that Dutton should retain the furry menagerie, saying that "the real Pooh is in my heart."

The incident would have been closed were it not for Gwyneth Dunwoody, a member of the British Parliament, who saw the toys "incarcerated" in the case and requested that they be returned to their "homeland."

Her demand appeared in the media around the world. A camera crew from the BBC wanted an interview with U.S. dignitaries and Dutton. The news broke on all the international wire services.

New York Mayor Rudolph Giulani defended the care of the winsome animals and, according to Lotz, has planned to designate a "Winnie the Pooh Day" in the Big Apple, which will include a parade.

Meanwhile, New York Rep. Nita Lowey introduced a resolution in Congress condemning any further attempt at deporting the animals to England. By coincidence, this occurred at the same time as the visit of British Prime Minister Tony Blair to America.

While Blair has admitted that "they're perfectly well-looked after where they are . . . " Lotz is hoping that other influential people will also take the issue seriously. She has written to first lady Hillary Rodham Clinton requesting honorary citizenship for Pooh and friends. As part of their citizenship, Pooh has been pledged to assist in the national literacy campaign.

One would have to imagine what Pooh would say about all this. Perhaps that's what is meant by "there's not much you can do/When you're only Very Small."

Pooh and his friends may be housed in the Donnell Library, but any of us know that "wherever they go, and whatever happens to them on the way, in that enchanted place . . . a little boy and his Bear will always be playing."