Good Ideas, But Poorly Executed
Amanda Evans of Oregon City, 10/17/2008
I really wanted to like this series, but I've had to admit to myself that I'll probably forget all about it as soon as I finish this review. Each chapter begins with promise—and there were a handful of memorable stories scattered throughout—but for the most part, they end with something lacking.
The Mary Poppins series is basically a collection of short stories chronicling the fantastical adventures the Banks children find themselves on whenever Mary Poppins is around. Each book begins with the Banks household disastrously disorganized and off-kilter until the remarkable arrival of the most famous nanny in literature. Whether she comes floating on the West Wind, at the end of a kite, or with a burst of fireworks, Jane and Michael are ecstatic to see her and beg her to stay forever. Each time she only promises to stay for a certain amount of time: until the wind changes, her locket breaks, or the door opens. Each time she faithfully keeps her word, but in between her her unusual entrances and exits, her neat, tidy, efficient, and Practially Perfect presence makes the Banks household run smoothly—if a bit extraordinarily.
Most of the stories involve an imaginative explanation for the everyday mysteries surrounding us, the ones that children with active imaginations are likely to wonder about: how does Spring come; what happens between the first stroke of midnight when the old year dies and the new year is born; who is more real: me, or the me reflected in the window; and (of course) what does Mary Poppins does on her Day Off or her Night Out? In other stories Jane and Michael enter pictures that have hung over their nursery mantle for years; a statue in the park comes to life; characters come out of the storybook (Mary Poppins was their nanny too!); and they find out what happens to peope who get locked in the zoo after it closes.
Each of these ideas are rich with potential, but there's something lacking in the way they are executed. Maybe they aren't very well-written, maybe they're lacking that special third dimension of charm and life; or maybe P. L. Traver's answers just weren't the ones I would have imagined. The stories are full of allusions to well-loved mursery rhymes and fairy tales, but they're a little cheesy and silly. Maybe it's a style of British humor that I didn't get, or maybe it was aimed at a younger audience, but there was something lacking that keeps it from joining the ranks of really timeless literature that can be enjoyed by readers of all ages, as well as its intended audience.
Besides the style of writing, I also had a problem with the character of Mary Poppins herself. She's strict, sharp, vain, and easily insulted. She'll stop to stare admiringly at her own reflection and then snap at the children for dawdling. I really don't know why they want her to stay so much.
All that said, I don't regret reading the books; I just don't know what kept me plowing through to the end. Some stories were endearing—the ones about the twins (characters not in the classic Disney movie, unfortunately) forgetting how to understand the speech of the wind, sun, and birds for example—but for the most part, they would begin full of promise without progressing beyond silly dialogue and trivial characters.
If you want to read about children with active imaginations exploring the world around them, I suggest trying instead Kenneth Graham's "The Golden Age" or E. Nesbit's charming stories. If those don't make you wish you were a rich English child on a holiday in the Victorian British countryside, they'll at least help you look at the world around you with new eyes.