Practically Perfect in Every Way

Is it time to visit (or revisit) the Mary Poppins series of books? I think yes.

Mary Poppins book jacket

I'm finding myself reading books that I somehow missed in my childhood and am now about halfway through the Mary Poppins series. This set was started in the 1950's by P.L. Travers. It focusses on Jane and Michael Banks, two children living in London, their family and neighbors, and their new nanny, Mary Poppins. After a series of unsuitable (or fed up) nannies, Mary Poppins materializes from the sky to put the Banks household right. She takes the children on exciting adventures on regales them of fanciful stories that might just be true.

Here are some things that I love about Mary Poppins:

  • One of the Subject Headings is "Magic in the Real World." And who among us doesn't need a bit of that now and again?
  • She's super-sassy. Mary won't take lip from nobody, not children, not adults, not the policeman, not mythical creatures. Nobody.
  • She makes sure that the children get just what they need, just when they need it. Whether that's a jam sandwich or a good lesson in humility.
  • She takes the children on adventures which are sometimes delightful and sometimes unpleasant. But always magical. She then denies that the whole episode ever happened.
  • She is a snazzy dresser.


One concern:

You know how you go back and read books that you loved as a kid like Babar or Tintin and you're like: "wow, that part was kinda colonialist/racist/misogynistic" and then you feel bad for loving it so much and wonder whether you should recommend the book to the kids in your life? There's a bit of that in some, but not all, of the books. There's an "Indian Chief…" sigh.

I will continue reading the series because Mary Poppins is a Boss and she makes me happy.

What's different from the movies:

  • Three children were written out of the movie script
  • The book is not a musical
  • Mary is not quite as nice or doting in the books
  • In the books, there is definitely something going in between Mary and Bert... but what?

Should you read the books? If you're into magic and awesome, I say yes!

What series from your childhood have you revisited and what are your thoughts?


I know you asked us about

I know you asked us about other series; I hope it's okay to submit instead my own reflections on Mary Poppins:

As a parent reading Mary Poppins for the first time (as a child, I watched the movie, but never read the books), she seemed not just assertive & focused on the children's deeper needs (like the film nanny), but also incredibly mean; it seemed to me she undermined the children's sense of self, and pumped herself up to their disadvantage.

Watching the movie as a child, I wished I could have a magical nanny like her. Reading the book made me more grateful I had a mother who valued my contribution to the family (however small), was amazed by my creativity, and listened to my concerns/complaints/ailments as valid, even when they (upon later reflection) were trivial or self-centered. Compared to P.L. Travers' Mary Poppins character, my mother was a "practically perfect" caregiver.

If dancing penguins & floating tea-parties (from the movie) come with nasty remarks that cut me down (from the book), I'd rather keep my mom's practical (lessons about how sugar rots your teeth) that was always paired with respect for my process (I got to decide if I wanted to rot my teeth or not). Ironically - given her crusade against sugared-up drinks, my mom is the master of a "spoonful of sugar" concept, and always tries to pair a sweetness with things that are necessary but odious.

What do you think?

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