Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Mary Poppins

Mary Poppins. P.L. Travers. Illustrated by Mary Shepard. 1934/2006. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. 224 pages.

If you want to find Cherry-Tree Lane all you have to do is ask the Policeman at the cross-roads. He will push his helmet slightly to one side, scratch his head thoughtfully, and then he will point his huge white-gloved finger and say: "First to your right, second to your left, sharp right again, and you're there. Good-morning." 

I enjoyed reading P.L. Travers' Mary Poppins. I enjoyed it more than I thought I would. It's a strange novel, that's true. The chapters are episodic. Some chapters are "better" than others, in my opinion. If you equate being better with being more entertaining. (But since what entertains one person may be someone else's idea of oh-so-boring, you can make up your own mind.) And Mary Poppins has more to her than you might expect. She's vain. She's bossy. She can be cranky. She can be great fun, encouraging you to imagine this or that. Or not. Sometimes she's just not in that kind of mood. Sometimes she doesn't want questions; she doesn't want to play around. Sometimes she's definitely no-nonsense. Mary Poppins is nanny to four Banks children: Jane and Michael, the older ones, and Barbara and John, the toddler ones. (The novel sees them turning one.) So overall, I'd recommend it!

Mary Poppins took out a large bottle labelled "One Tea-Spoon to be Taken at Bed-Time."
A spoon was attached to the neck of the bottle, and into this Mary Poppins poured a dark crimson fluid. "Is that your medicine?" enquired Michael, looking very interested.
"No, yours," said Mary Poppins, holding out the spoon to him. Michael stared. He wrinkled up his nose. He began to protest.
"I don't want it. I don't need it. I won't!"
But Mary Poppins's eyes were fixed upon him, and Michael suddenly discovered that you could not look at Mary Poppins and disobey her. There was something strange and extraordinary about her--something that was frightening and at the same time most exciting. The spoon came nearer. He held his breath, shut his eyes and gulped. A delicious taste ran round his mouth. He turned his tongue in it. He swallowed, and a happy smile ran round his face.
"Strawberry ice," he said ecstatically. "More, more, more!" (11-12)
"Where have you been?" they asked her.
"In Fairyland," said Mary Poppins.
"Did you see Cinderella?" said Jane.
"Huh, Cinderella? Not me," said Mary Poppins contemptuously. "Cinderella, indeed!"
"Or Robinson Crusoe?" asked Michael.
"Robinson Crusoe--pooh!" said Mary Poppins rudely.
"Then how could you have been there? It couldn't have been our Fairyland!"
Mary Poppins gave a superior sniff.
"Don't you know," she said pityingly, "that everybody's got a Fairyland of their own?" (28)

When they go Christmas shopping...

"That will do nicely for Daddy," said Michael, selecting a clockwork train with special signals. "I will take care of it for him when he goes to the City."
"I think I will get this for Mother," said Jane, pushing a small doll's perambulator which, she felt sure, her Mother had always wanted. "Perhaps she will lend it to me sometimes."
After that, Michael chose a packet of hairpins for each of the Twins and a Meccano set for his Mother, a mechanical beetle for Robertson Ay, a pair of spectacles for Ellen whose eyesight was perfectly good, and some bootlaces for Mrs. Brill who always wore slippers.
Jane, after some hesitation, eventually decided that a white dickey would be just the thing for Mr. Banks, and she bought Robinson Crusoe for the Twins to read when they grew up.
"Until they are old enough, I can read it myself," she said. "I am sure they will lend it to me." (181-82)

© 2011 Becky Laney of Young Readers

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