The Literary Magic of the Mary Poppins Books by P.L.Travers

Mary Poppins by P.L. Travers

Mary Poppins, one of the best-loved characters in children’s literature, came from a story that its author, P.L. (Pamela Lyndon) Travers made up while minding two young children. Here’s a rundown of most all of the Mary Poppins books in the series.

Mary Poppins, the first book in the series, was published in 1934 to instant success and launched a series starring the magical nanny as the central character. In it, she’s blown to Number 17 Cherry Tree Lane, London by the East wind, and becomes part of the Banks family’s household.

There she takes charge of the children, changing their lives and that of their parents. The books, all illustrated by Mary Shepard, have been a mainstay of classic children’s literature from the time of their publication.

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mary poppins 1964 film

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If Mary Poppins brings to mind Julie Andrews’ portrayal of her in the 1964 film, you’ll be surprised by how she’s depicted in the books. A darker and more prickly character, here’s how she was described in a Classic of the Month column in the Guardian:

“Mary Poppins is not nice. She arrives, to be the nanny for the four Banks children, riding a puff of wind; she understands, and can be understood by, animals; she can take you round the world in about two minutes; and the medicine she gives you will taste like whatever your heart desires (lime-juice cordial for Jane Banks; milk for the infant Banks twins) — but a spoonful of sugar, to quote the very sugary movie, is nowhere in sight.”

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Mary Poppins returns 2018

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2018 saw a cinematic revival with Mary Poppins Returns starring Emily Blunt in the title role and Lin Manuel Miranda in an altered iteration of the role created by Dick Van Dyke in the 1964 Mary Poppins film. The film, released in time for the holiday season, evidently brought more cheer to audiences than to critics. Watch the official trailer.

It goes to show, though, that the magical nanny is still someone we yearn for in these troubled times — “Spit-spot,” as she’s known to say, and our troubles melt away; life becomes less complicated, even as its filled with new and amazing adventures. Who wouldn’t want that?

Here’s a brief description of the books in the main series, as well as a few others that the author added later.

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Mary Poppins (1934)

Mary Poppins by P.L. Travers
A blast of wind, a house-rattling bang, and Mary Poppins arrives at Number Seventeen Cherry-Tree Lane. Quicker than she can close her umbrella, she takes charge of the Banks children — Jane, Michael, and the twins — and changes their lives forever.

Unlike other nannies, Mary Poppins make the most ordinary events extraordinary. She slides up banisters, pulls all manner of wonders out of her empty carpetbag, and banishes fear or sadness with a no-nonsense “Spit-spot.”

Who else can lead the children on one magical adventure after another and still gently tuck them in a the end of the day? No one other than the beloved nanny Mary Poppins. (from the 1981 Harcourt, Brace edition)

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Mary Poppins Comes Back (1935)

Mary Poppins Comes Back
When she left the Banks family in that highly unconventional but characteristic manner, sailing over the housetops in the wake of her umbrella, it was well understood that Mary Poppins would come back one fine day.

And sure enough, here she is, ready to take the Banks children through a new series of adventures, more completely captivating than before. In these delectable pages you learn — or do you? — the secret of her return. You meet the King of the Castle and the Dirty Rascal …

And there’s Mr. Turvy’s Second Monday and Jane’s Bad Wednesday, and many expeditions into Mary Poppins’ own special fairyland. Turn to the first page and start such an adventure as you will find nowhere outside of Cherry Tree Lane. (from the 1963 Harcourt, Brace edition)

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Mary Poppins Opens the Door (1943)

Mary Poppins Opens the Door
From the moment Mary Poppins arrives at Number Seventeen Cherry-Tree Lane, everyday life at the Banks house is forever changed. This classic series tells the story of the world’s most beloved nanny, who brings enchantment and excitement with her everywhere she goes. Featuring the charming original cover art by Mary Shepard, these new editions are sure to delight readers of all ages.

Mary Poppins reappears just in time! According to her tape measure, Jane and Michael have grown “Worse and Worse” since she went away. But the children won’t have time to be naughty with all that Mary has planned for them.

A visit to Mr. Twigley’s music box-filled attic, an encounter with the Marble Boy, and a ride on Miss Calico’s enchanted candy canes are all part of an average day out with everyone’s favorite nanny. (from Amazon)

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Mary Poppins in the Park (1952)

Mary Poppins in the Park

Who else but Mary Poppins can lead the Banks children — Jane, Michael, and the twins — on such extraordinary adventures? Together they all meet the Goosegirl and the Swineherd, argue with talking cats on a distant planet, make the acquaintance of folks who live under the dandelions, and celebrate a birthday by dancing with their own shadows. And that just for starters!

The fourth and final book in this beloved series features six whimsical tales that occurred during the magical nanny’s three previous visits.

“She cannot forever arrive and depart,” P.L. Travers explains — though after joining Mary Poppins for these six adventures, who can blame a reader for wanting her to come back again and again! (from the 1980 Harcourt, Brace edition)

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Mary Poppins from A to Z (1962)

Mary Poppins from A to Z
Mary Poppins is back again! With Incomparable wit, P.L. Travers has written twenty-six short episodes, one for each letter of the alphabet, about Mary Poppins and all the characters of the earlier books …

For all who know and love Mary Poppins, and for smear children who still have that joy to come, this wonderful, funny, crisp, tongue-twisting text … will be an irresistible, never-to-be-forgotten experience. (from the 1962 edition, John Lyndon, Ltd. edition)

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Mary Poppins in the Kitchen (1975)

Mary Poppins in the Kitchen
Subtitled A Cookery Book with a Story, this entry offers a unique glimpse at the famous Poppins cast as the spit-spot English nanny and the Banks children take over the kitchen for a week.

With the help of familiar visitors like the Bird Woman, Admiral Boom, and Mr. and Mrs. Turvy, Mary Poppins teaches her irrepressible young charges the basics of cooking, from A to Z. And young readers can re-create the week’s menus by following the thirty different recipes. Kitchen adventures were never so much fun! (from Amazon)

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Mary Poppins in Cherry Tree Lane (1982)

Mary Poppins in Cherry Tree Lane
She’s back! From where, we do not know and are not likely to be told, for it is one of Mary Poppins’ chief characteristics that she never explains. However, her she comes once again pushing the perambulator, the familiar upright figure with bright pink cheeks, bright blue eyes, and turned-up nose, taking the Banks children on yet another memorable adventure.

It’s now the most special of nights, Midsummer’s Eve. All kinds of strange things can happened, and even mythical figures can descend from the heavens. But Mary Poppins takes all in stride, managing to draw everyone, including the trembling Park Keeper, into the spirit of this romantic, magical holiday. (from the 1982 Delacorte Press edition)

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Mary Poppins and the House Next Door (1988)

Mary Poppins and the House Next Door
Mary Poppins, the unflappable nanny of the Banks children, is back again! It is a day like any other for Mary Poppins and the Banks family in Number Seventeen Cherry Tree Lane – until a telegram arrives with the momentous news that Miss Andrews, the Holy Terror, is coming to live in the house next door.

The house has always been empty and so has become the treasure of Cherry Tree Lane – each neighbor has filled it with personal dreams. But now peace in the lane is gravely threatened. Can Mary Poppins, in her own magical, whimsical way, resolve the crisis? (from Amazon)

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Mary Poppins boxed set

Mary Poppins books and related media on Amazon*

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