Mary Poppins: The Complete Collection by P L Travers

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Mary Poppins: The Complete Collection by P L Travers

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Buy Mary Poppins: The Complete Collection by P L Travers at Amazon.co.uk or Amazon.com

Category: Confident Readers
Rating: 4/5
Reviewer: Linda Lawlor
Reviewed by Linda Lawlor
Summary: A collection of all the original Mary Poppins stories in a huge brick of a book.
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 768 Date: September 2010
Publisher: Harper Collins Children's Books
ISBN: 978-0007398553

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It is coming up for eighty years since Mary Poppins was first published in Great Britain, but it is still one of those children's books you will find in every library and bookshop. Almost everyone in the country, young and old, can tell you the story and describe all the main characters, and the Poppins name, along with the carpet bag and the parrot-headed umbrella, has become a cultural reference. But to be honest, what most people actually know is the 1960s Disney film: the original nanny who blew into the life of the Banks children is a much darker, more mysterious being altogether.

Some people who come to these stories having seen the film will be shocked: the Disney version presents a delightful but very sugary version of the Banks household and its marvellous nanny. As the first story in this book begins, Jane and Michael have twin siblings, who enjoy a couple of gentle adventures of their own, and eventually a fifth child joins the nursery. Two neighbourhood dogs play droll supporting roles in some chapters, and while the chimney sweep does appear from time to time, it is the fretful, lonely Park Keeper we meet most often. But the biggest difference is in the character of Mary herself. The word used most often to describe her in the book is conceited, and she spends a good deal of time admiring her reflection in shop windows and ponds. During the adventures beings and animals from many worlds treat her with real reverence, and she has no hesitation in taking it all as her due. The children are fond of her, and hate to see her leave (which she does three times), but there is no denying that she is extremely sharp-tongued. She makes all manner of threats to the children, and many a school teacher would envy that famous glare, which silences children and adults alike. She arrives and leaves without warning, she refuses to provide references, and frankly, she bullies poor feeble Mrs Banks, not to mention a whole array of shopkeepers.

This is a tome to be read a little at a time, perhaps over several months, and indeed at over 760 pages there is plenty to keep you going. Many of the adventures are similar in format: Jane or Michael will make some comment or complaint, or express a wish, and in no time this idea is woven into a fantastic event. Once the adventure is over Mary Poppins will deny all knowledge of it, leading the children to wonder if it was all a dream, but some small item (a snake-skin belt, a glowing feather, or even a new star in the heavens made from a lost half-crown) will reassure them that the whole thing really did happen. Adults would not tolerate such formulaic writing, but children enjoy the familiar, and the details of the adventures themselves are so enchanting, and so varied, that this is unlikely to be a problem.

Apart from a modern typeface, the book as an object is uncompromising in its fidelity to the original, even down to the Latin prayers at the end of some chapters. The stories were written at a time when illustrations were few and far between in most children's books, and although it is certainly a book that older, more confident young people will be able to tackle by themselves, less valiant readers will feel daunted by the acres of text. For a full understanding and enjoyment of Jane and Michael's daily life, it is best considered as a book for adults and children to share. A chapter at bed-time will send young people quickly to sleep in the hopes that they will wake to extraordinary midnight adventures, and children will enjoy comparing their own, freer lives with those of the Banks children. Even adults will be surprised by some details. For example, Mary Poppins does not have a room of her own, sleeping on a camp bed in the night nursery, and we are told more than once that she undresses under a voluminous nightie for privacy. One cannot imagine modern nannies putting up with such a situation! Indeed, much material for discussion in homes and classrooms will be found in these pages, with their wistful, elegiac portrayal of a stricter but more innocent era.

Many thanks to Harper Collins for giving us the chance to revisit this charming collection of stories.

Further reading suggestion: Another book about a magical and rather terrifying nanny is Nanny McPhee and the Big Bang by Emma Thompson. And Roald Dahl's books contain a multitude of unreliable and scary adults: try George's Marvellous Medicine.

Buy Mary Poppins: The Complete Collection by P L Travers at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy Mary Poppins: The Complete Collection by P L Travers at Amazon.co.uk


Buy Mary Poppins: The Complete Collection by P L Travers at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy Mary Poppins: The Complete Collection by P L Travers at Amazon.com.

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