Sunday, July 21, 2013

Sunday Salon: Reading Mary Poppins (1934)

Mary Poppins. P.L. Travers. Illustrated by Mary Shepard. 1934/2006. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. 224 pages. [Source: Library]

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've read Mary Poppins three times now. I think I love it more each time. I find it funnier. There are twelve chapters; each chapter is a story or episode: "East Wind," "The Day Out," "Laughing Gas," "Miss Lark's Andrew," "The Dancing Cow," "Bad Tuesday," "The Bird Woman," "Mrs. Corry," "John and Barbara's Story," "Full Moon," "Christmas Shopping," and "West Wind." These stories tell of Mary Poppins and the four children in her charge: Jane, Michael, and the twins Barbara and John. My least favorite story is probably "The Bird Woman." My most favorite story is probably "John and Barbara's Story."

Favorite quotes:
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!" (10)
So Mary Poppins put on her white gloves and tucked her umbrella under her arm--not because it was raining but because it had such a beautiful handle that she couldn't possibly leave it at home. How could you leave your umbrella behind if it had a parrot's head for a handle? Besides, Mary Poppins was very vain and liked to look her best. Indeed, she was quite sure that she never looked anything else. (13)
"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?" (21) 
"Are you quite sure he will be at home?" said Jane, as they got off the Bus, she and Michael and Mary Poppins.
"Would my Uncle ask me to bring you to tea if he intended to go out, I'd like to know?" said Mary Poppins, who was evidently very offended by the question. She was wearing her blue coat with the silver buttons and the blue hat to match, and on the days when she wore these it was the easiest thing in the world to offend her. (22)
Upstairs in the Nursery Mary Poppins was airing the clothes by the fire, and the sunlight poured in at the window, flickering on the white walls, dancing over the cots where the babies were lying.
"I say, move over! You're right in my eyes," said John in a loud voice.
"Sorry!" said the sunlight. "But I can't help it. I've got to get across this room somehow. Orders is orders. I must move from East to West in a day and my way lies through this Nursery. Sorry! Shut your eyes and you won't notice me."
The gold shaft of sunlight lengthened across the room. It was obviously moving as quickly as it could in order to oblige John.
"How soft, how sweet you are! I love you," said Barbara, holding out her hands to its shining warmth.
"Good girl," said the sunlight approvingly and moved up over her cheeks and into her hair with a light, caressing movement. "Do you like the feel of me?" it said, as though it loved being praised.
"Dee-licious!" said Barbara, with a happy sigh. (93)
The room was very quiet.
John, drowsing in the sunlight, put the toes of his right foot into his mouth and ran them along the place where his teeth were just beginning to come through.
"Why do you bother to do that?" said Barbara, in her soft, amused voice that seemed always to be full of laughter. "There's nobody to see you."
"I know," said John, playing a tune on his toes. "But I like to keep in practice. It does so amuse the Grown-ups. Did you notice that Aunt Flossie nearly went mad with delight when I did it yesterday? 'The Darling, the Clever, the Marvel, the Creature!' -- didn't you hear her saying all that?" And John threw his foot from him and roared with laughter as he thought of Aunt Flossie.
"She liked my trick, too," said Barbara complacently. "I took off both my socks and she said I was so sweet she would like to eat me. Isn't it funny--when I say I'd like to eat something I really mean it...But Grown-ups never mean what they say, it seems to me. She couldn't have really wanted to eat me, could she?" (95)
"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." (124)

© 2013 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews


Cleo Li-Schwartz said...

I love this children's classic too; it's so wonderful, whimsical, and funny.

Ms. Yingling said...

I have a. beautiful set of these in my library, but they go unread. I'll have to push them when school starts! (And Mandy is one of my all time favorites! Our reading tastes are so similar!)