Welcome to our Mary Poppins chat–the final classics discussion for the year! At the end of the post, you’ll find info on how to tally up your reviews if you participated in 2015, as well as what we think we’ll be doing going forward.
Wendy: I’ve literally seen the movie Mary Poppins over a hundred times. (What can I say, as a child, when I loved things, I loved them intensely.) I can’t remember how far into those viewings that I decided to read the books, but I was surprised to find how much I loved them–just as a much, but in a very different way.
Layla: While I’ve definitely seen this movie several times, I don’t think I’ve ever read this book! So thanks for finally bringing this one to the front of my queue, Wendy. It was really different from what I was expecting, I’ve got to say – and I couldn’t quite push the image of Julie Andrews as Mary Poppins out of my head while I was reading. I don’t know. Overall, these are funnier, sadder, and more frightening than I thought they would be? And not quite as moralizing as I expected they might be?
Kim: Mary Poppins is one of the approximately seven films I have seen, and I love it of course! I have many happy and delightful childhood memories associated. My experience was different from yours, Layla. It was super easy to divorce my association of Julie Andrews as Mary Poppins to the character in the book because they’re so different.
Layla: That’s true. I still kept imagining Julie Andrews delivering both lines and quelling looks, though.
Wendy: The books are very, very British in their humor. Book Mary’s certainly not the type to sing the children lullabies as they drift off to sleep, she’s much more no-nonsense, decidedly more vain, with tendencies towards sarcasm/mockery, and is occasionally even unkind. But there’s a gruff tenderness in her silences, as well as in her actions. I think one of the things I like best about these books is how the situations are presented to the reader without judgment or interpretation–it’s up to us to notice and decide how we feel about the children being raised by strangers and not their parents, to note Mrs. Banks’ helpless fluttering, to chafe under Miss Lark’s fussing, and to read into what Mary Poppins does rather than what she says.
Layla: Do you want Mary Poppins as your nanny? How do we feel about the sequence where she’s blown in by the wind, talks her way into your house, and then gets your children hooked on her medicine? I’m just saying, I feel like this could be a horror movie if it weren’t so obviously … not, even though the barley sugar lady did creep me out. Keep your fingers to yourself, lady!!
Wendy: Oh, you’ll love Scary Mary Poppins, Layla. HIDE YOUR CHILDREN.
Layla: YESSS. That is precisely what I was envisioning. In all seriousness, I like Mary Poppins – there’s a sense that she knows more of what’s going on with everything (the children, fashion, stars, the whole world) than anyone else does. I vote yay.
Kim: I vote nay. I love what Wendy says about the reader being left to decide for themselves how to judge the situations. This is definitely the aspect I most appreciated about the book. I just didn’t understand this story! I got the humor sometimes, but it was mostly lost on me I fear. I agree that there is absolutely a gruff tenderness to Mary Poppins, but as a child I would have absolutely quailed at her stiffness, disapproval, and occasional downright meanness. I am the type of little sensitive soul who could never handle the disapproval or disaffection of adults. Reading this book reminded me of the stern nuns from my pre-school and Kindergarten days and it was not a happy association! I’m afraid I just couldn’t separate the memory of feeling what being with those nuns was like while I was reading this book. I’m just not strong enough to handle a nanny like Mary Poppins.
Wendy: While I wouldn’t want to be neglected by my parents, I think it would’ve been rather reassuring to have an adult who was devoted to my well-being. Especially one who could conduct tea parties on ceilings and knew how to talk to animals! And who can put a butcher who’s being fresh in his place.
Layla: I think I would have liked jumping into paintings, but I would have had a hard time handling the lack of answers to questions. It seems like the kids have a lot of things they want answers to (perfectly reasonable and natural curiosity, if you ask me) and Mary Poppins is not necessarily interested in taking away any of the mystery by answering questions. That would have bugged me more than the occasional meanness or stiffness, if you want to know the truth! I need nonstop attention and need to be able to chatter and meow at you at whim. Also also!! I want to know what that medicine would taste like for me. Funfetti cupcakes?
Wendy: My medicine would taste like matzoball soup, with a side of pastrami sandwich.
Kim: Mine would obviously be a Shackburger from Shake Shack.
Layla: Haha. Oh, I should have seen that coming from Kim, especially. I was really surprised by the structure of the book. Again, from the film, I expected a more straightforward plot about the children and Mary Poppins and Bert and saving Mr. Banks etc. In its place we get a series of stories about things like … cows getting stars stuck on their horns, or Mary Poppins taking the children to get gingerbread from someone whose fingers are made of barley sugar (!!!), or Mary Poppins’s birthday at the zoo – stories that are connected by the thread of Mary Poppins being made of strange magic, basically. And of course Mary Poppins’s relationship to the children can be figured out through all of these episodes (“let’s all just pretend this never happened, but please admire my hamadryad belt!1!”), it’s just that this wasn’t what I was expecting from the book.
Wendy: They did a fantastic job of lifting moments from the book for both the music and the plot of the movie–it’s very much a family film, so the children are included in the chalk paintings outing, for example, and I love them dearly for the “Feed the Birds” song. The film did create the overarching narrative of “saving” Mr. Banks, which I think works well for dramatic purposes–that’s also hammered home rather intensely in the newish stage musical. But yes, the book is more episodic, and more sophisticated in its tone–though the film did give Mrs. Banks more of a backbone, and more to do.
Layla: Seconded about Mrs. Banks! If only because this movie is how I learned about women’s suffrage. And Glynis Johns is wonderful.
Kim: I was also surprised by the structure, and also that Bert plays such a minor role in the book! I loved the magic of chalk drawings very much (both in book and film version) so I’m glad it is found in both! I am also so happy that the movie gave Mrs. Banks especially a substantial storyline. Also, fun fact: I auditioned for a community theater show once by singing “Feed the Birds.” This was a very eccentric choice for audition song.
Layla: Oh. My. God. KIM. That’s amazing. (Was this on your musical playlist for our room at BEA? I did not hear you singing it?!) I want to know why the things that made it into the movie made it into the movie (jumping into paintings! laughing gas! feed the birds!) and other things did not.
Wendy: Pamela Travers was quite bitter about the Disneyfied Mary. I see her point as creator of this bristly person, but I love them both!
One thing that’s mostly absent from the film (although not entirely) is most of the controversial content. In the “Bad Tuesday” chapter, the book’s earlier editions included racial stereotypes that are deemed offensive by many. There’s a thorough comparison of the original text versus the edited version on the American Indians in Children’s Literature site (scroll down to January 8, 2013 update). My 1960s edition has the original text, and I can’t say that I noticed this as a child, but I did notice this time around someone–Michael?–being called an “arab” in an exasperated way. The author did an interview with The Paris Review addressing why she made the changes.
Layla: … I noticed the “arab” thing (I am primed to notice that!), but HOLY HELL, no, that is *not* what my “Bad Tuesday” chapter looks like. Mine includes interludes with animals! I did not pick up on the fact that those animals were edited to take the place of racist stereotypes, ahhhhh. All of those links are super interesting, though, Wendy.
Kim: This is very interesting. My copy is from 1997 and it still contains that language. I wouldn’t have noticed it as a child, either, but it stood out very starkly for me now, particularly the “You will not behave like a Red Indian, Michael” line. None of the Native imagery illustrations from “Bad Tuesday” are in my copy, though. I wonder why change some things but not others?
Layla: From the interview Wendy posted, it seems like she changed what she felt like she had to to keep people reading it. (And somewhat begrudgingly at that.) So that’s my best guess. What are your favorite chapters? I liked “Bad Tuesday.” I know what it feels like to wake up on the wrong side of the bed (and I liked the portrayal of the sort of visceral pleasure Michael feels in being naughty? “Nothing satisfies this weird defiant hunger inside me, I guess I’ll go be mean to something”). But my favorite part of this was obviously PETTING THE PANDA BEAR and huzzah, an interlude in yet another book where someone gets to talk to dolphins. So unfair! I want to do that. I also liked the story about the dancing cow.
… I will say as a that I wrote this bit *before* knowing the back-history to “Bad Tuesday” and now the panda-bear interlude is not enjoyable to me anymore. I still get the feeling of waking up on the wrong side of the bed, but blargh to the original version of this tale. I guess I’ll go back to liking that creepy story about the lady with barley-sugar fingers.
Wendy: I can definitely relate to “Bad Tuesday;” it’s the same I can’t help this overwhelming feeling of rejecting all things reasonable that I enjoyed in “Sarah in Trouble” from All-of-a-Kind Family. I love the scene in which they secretly paste gilt paper stars to the sky with a bucket of glue, and the brief, poignant anecdote with Maia, dancing her way up into the sky with her Christmas presents and Mary Poppins’ stylish fur gloves. But my favorite is “John and Barbara’s Story,” the wistful one about the twins which I excerpted on GoodReads. I’m always touched and saddened by reminders that growing up is inevitable, no matter how much we fight it.
Kim: For some reason I was really drawn to “Miss Lark’s Andrew.” There is just something about a pampered little frilly insisting that he does not like this and standing up for himself that I adored. The shock and dismay of Miss Lark was also very entertaining (is there something wrong with me?) Willoughby forever! My very favorite was “Christmas Shopping,” though. The Pleiades are my favorite celestial body to gaze upon in the night sky, so I cannot resist the utter charm and magic of going Christmas shopping with a Pleiades star! Wonder, enchantment, and charm all contained in one delightful story brimming with Christmas spirit. Just lovely.
Layla: “A pile of raspberry-jam-cakes as high as Mary Poppins’s waist stood in the centre,” “thirteen slabs of gingerbread.” All I’m saying is I could use some raspberry-jam cakes right now.
Wendy: TEA FOR DAYS AND DAYS. With shortbread and raspberry cakes, with or without penguins.
Layla: What a JOLLY HOLIDAY. :-D I hope you’re having one if you celebrate one.
Wendy: Forever 5 stars for me. Honestly, the book overall is probably 4.5 stars, but I love the chapters I mentioned above so much, it gets bumped up in my heart.
Layla:: 3.5 stars! I liked some things. I didn’t like others. I think niceness is overrated and did really enjoy Mary Poppins in all of her weirdness!
Kim: 3 stars. I just don’t get Mary Poppins. I’m so sorry!
2015 Challenge: It’s Reckoning Time!
Did you complete the challenge this year?
1. You must have read/reviewed at least 8 classic YA or MG books on your blog or GoodReads during the 2015 calendar year. What defines a classic? Well, we’re generally looking at books at least 20 years old, along with other factors such as lasting appeal, awards, critical reception, etc. They can be the 11 classics we read together at The Midnight Garden, or ones you chose on your own. We reserve the right to make the final call on whether the books qualify, though if it’s a “classic of your heart” situation, make a good case for it in your review!
2. You must have posted our classics challenge button on your sidebar and/or your reviews along with a link back to us.
3. Leave links to all of your reviews in one comment below. (It helps if you can write the title followed by the link, hit return, and then list another so the lists are nice and tidy.) We will absolutely, positively verify your entries, so please do make sure your links are properly formatted!
4. Leave an email address where we may contact you. You have until January 1st, 2016 to leave all your information, so you still have a little bit of time if you’re almost there.
If you’ve completed all of the above–congratulations! You’ve met your challenge goal–yay!!
From all the qualifying people who completed the challenge, we will choose winners as follows:
One winner (open internationally), will receive his/her choice of:
- Any one book, up to $10 in value, from The Book Depository OR
- 4 new or secondhand books, hand-picked specifically for you by Wendy!
If you choose option two, I’ll look at your GoodReads lists, blog, etc. to see what you’ve enjoyed in the past, and pick a few titles I think you’ll enjoy. This is a good one if you like being surprised, especially by obscure children’s books. But option one is great if you have something in mind, too!
Our usual general giveaway rules apply–you must be 18 and older to participate, or 13 and older with parental permission, etc., etc.
Photographs are by Wendy Darling.
I think we’ve come up with a way to keep this going on a smaller scale. We’ve decided to start a group on GoodReads where we can chat about the books we’re reading!
The bare bones of the group is up, but we’ll be adding more features. I think it’s a good way to do low-stress, low-maintenance discussions. The beauty of this is that it’ll be more interactive, and you’ll be able to easily jump onto fellow readers’ profiles to check out their interests. The goals/general ideas:
— Everyone is welcome to start a readalong discussion! I think the focus would be classic lit, but this could evolve into other types of books if people are interested as well.
— The group would be open to anyone with a GoodReads account.
— It’d be fun to do bookish group swaps like postcards, surprise gifts, and crafts in the future.
Finally–I had to put a placeholder name for the group, but I’m open to other suggestions as well! I couldn’t think of anything fun right off the bat. And if you have suggestions for other things we could do as a group, feel free to chime in.
Anyway, let us know what you think, and if this works for you.