First, if you haven’t read Mary Poppins, written by P. L. Travers, do it now! Second, don’t expect it to be anything like the Disney movie. Now onto the real review…
Such a charming and amusing book! Stories like these reaffirm my belief that children’s literature deserves more respect from serious literary scholars. Children’s books offer an opportunity to explore issues and ideas in a way that adult literature can’t, at least not as easily. The world of children’s literature is one of magic and mystery, and it can take on a playful tone as it grapples with more serious questions. Alice in Wonderland and Alice Through the Looking Glass, Peter Pan, The Secret Garden, A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, even Harry Potter. All of them tackle real-world issues (power dynamics, death, growing up, poverty, health issues, intolerance, etc.) with more fun and less pain than one finds in adult books addressing the same issues. A good children’s book is that spoon full of sugar that helps the medicine go down. (It’s also possible that I just prefer the magical, mysterious worlds created in children’s literature to the real world.)
Mary Poppins is a classic for good reason. The book is a collection of fun, whimsical stories for children, with all the life lessons that most of us adults could use a refresher in. There’s tolerance, taught by dogs; maintaining a sense of adventure, taught by a cow; and the importance of recognizing that not everything is always as it seems, taught by just about everyone the children encounter. Mary Poppins herself is an extremely strange — and perpetually displeased — character whose power is never fully understood or disclosed, but enough is revealed to the children to keep them in check out of fear for what her wrath might bring. But while they may fear her, they also love her for all the adventure and new experiences she brings to their lives.
One of the ideas that I found interesting here is the notion of three realms: the adult world, the children’s world, and the animal world. And none of them can successfully interact with each other. The exception, of course, being Mary Poppins. She can communicate with all three realms. Hell, she can even interact with stars. She’s a special lady. Oh! And the scene with the star is one of my favorites because the men are so offended that the star, taking on a little girl’s form, is so scantily clad. The book is just great fun.
Now, obviously Mary Poppins is practically perfect, but that does leave some room for error. And did I have any issues with the book? Of course I did! That’s just who I am. My only real issue (and this could be a case of me not reading closely enough at the start) was that it wasn’t actually clear to me why the children feared Mary’s wrath. Sure, she threatened a lot and gave menacing glares when the children misbehaved, but I wasn’t aware of too many horrible things she did to the kids. That said, honestly, what kind of terrible children’s book would depict a bad punishment??? So, I forgive this discrepancy. And any other issues I might have had were too slight to waste time on. The book is AWESOME!
So, again, if you haven’t read Mary Poppins, do it! And remember, expect absolutely nothing from the movie to happen in the book. That way you’ll be pleasantly surprised when one or two events in the book are mildly familiar. I really don’t understand Disney.