The Many Faces of Mary Poppins
Todays article is all about Mary Poppins. I’ll be reviewing some of the most beautiful editions of the books, and will also share a little trivia and discuss some of the differences between the books and the movies.
Author Pamela Lyndon Travers was born Helen Lyndon Goff in 1899 in Queensland, Australia. However, she spent most of her career in England, working for many years as a journalist. She wrote her first book about Mary Poppins, the magical English nanny, while recuperating from a serious illness, saying it was “to while away the days, but also to put down something that had been in my mind for a long time”.
This first book in the Mary Poppins series introduces the Banks family from Number Seventeen Cherry Tree Lane, London, consisting of Mr. and Mrs. Banks, their children Jane and Michael, and baby twins John and Barbara. When the children’s nanny storms out in a huff, Mary Poppins arrives at their home, complete with her travelling carpet bag, blown in by a very strong East wind.
Illustrator: Lauren Child
About the book: One of the most beautiful editions of Travers’ first Mary Poppins book is the UK deluxe edition released in late 2018, illustrated by the lovely Lauren Child. Her art style is instantly recognizable from her series featuring the hugely popular Charlie and Lola, as well as the Clarice Bean series.
Sensitively abridged, this beautiful edition is the perfect way to introduce a new generation to the original Mary Poppins novel.
Illustrator: Júlia Sardà
About the book: A US gift edition was also released in 2018, with artwork by Spanish illustrator Júlia Sardà. It features silver foil on the cover and beautiful artwork that I think reflects a kind of old school Disney magic, presenting Mary’s London in rich, full colour.
Illustrator: Helene Druvert
About the book: A charming picture storybook with ornate, laser-cut pages and delicate illustrations by Helene Druvert. It takes its readers on an enchanting journey over the rooftops of London, under the sea, and everywhere in between.
There are actually a total of 8 books in the Mary Poppins series. The original books feature illustrations by Mary Shepard, the daughter of Ernest Shepard, most famous for his illustrations of Winnie the Pooh. In fact, Pamela Travers originally approached Ernest Shepard to illustrate Mary Poppins, but he was too busy to accept the work. You might think her father then recommended his daughter for the job, but in fact Travers happened to see a Christmas card Mary had designed on a friend’s mantle, and selected her directly – despite Mary Shepard being only 23 years old at the time, and quite inexperienced being only fresh out of art school. Travers asked Shepard to base her likeness of Mary Poppins on a wooden peg doll with painted black hair and a turned up nose.
Illustrator: Mary Shepard
About the book: The 80th anniversary edition collates the first four tales and incorporates Mary Shepard’s original illustrations.
This edition has a gilded cover, a foreword by Gregory Maguire, as well as a closing essay by PL Travers called “On not writing for children”. This collected works volume is rather intimidating in size, with over 1000 pages making it very thick indeed!
Illustrator: Disney artists
About the book: The Little Golden Book editions of Mary Poppins typically use artwork by uncredited Disney artists. They release them under new ISBNs every few years but the content is the same.
Highly abridged, low quality, but cute, very cheap, and perfect for a toddler.
Illustrator: Janet and Anne Grahame Johnstone
About the book: There are lots of vintage Mary Poppins books, but I’m including this one because it has illustrations by two of my favourite artists, twins Janet and Anne Johnstone. OOP.
❦ Don’t forget to also visit the Janet and Anne Grahame Johnstone illustrated bibliography…
Where to buy: Check availability at Abes
The Complete Mary Poppins Series
Apart from the huge omnibus edition above, if you’d rather read all the books in a smaller format, you can also still find some sweet hardback reproductions with the original black & white illustrations, as well as later colorized editions.
In Mary’s care, the Banks children meet the King of the Castle and the Dirty Rascal, visit the upside-down world of Mr. Turvy and his bride, Miss Topsy, and spend a breathless afternoon above the park, dangling from a clutch of balloons.
Mary Poppins leads the Banks children to meet the Goosegirl and the Swineherd, argue with talking cats on a distant planet, make the acquaintance of the folks who live under dandelions, and celebrate a birthday by dancing with their own shadows.
The residents of Cherry Tree Lane are distressed to learn that their beloved Number Eighteen, an empty house for which each neighbour has created an imaginary, wished-for tenant, is about to be occupied by Mr. Banks’ childhood governess, Miss Andrew, otherwise known as “the Holy Terror.”
➡ Buy from Book Depository (in PB omnibus with Cherry Tree Lane)
Books vs Movie Trivia
Disney’s 1964 Mary Poppins film won five Academy Awards, as well as being the only one of Walt Disney’s films to earn a Best Picture nomination in his lifetime. Disney’s daughters had fallen in love with the Mary Poppins books and made him promise to make a film based on them. However, it took him 20 years to convince Pamela Travers to let him adapt the first book of the series. Unfortunately, as many people know from the film ‘Saving Mr Banks,’ or the Mary Poppins She Wrote biography, the author hated Disney’s adaptation of her book. She thought the film was silly and sentimental, and had completely misinterpreted the personality of her main character – she didn’t even like the music. Their relationship became so acrimonious that Disney didn’t invite her to the movie premiere – she had to wrangle an invitation from an assistant, and she literally wept at the screening. She was so unhappy about the experience that when she granted permission for a stage adaptation in the 1990s, she agreed only with the stipulation that no Americans work on the project.
Some of the main artistic changes between the books and the movies included removing Jane and Michael Banks’ twin siblings, reinventing Dick van Dyke’s iconic character Bert as a combination of the matchman and the sweep, and making Mary Poppins herself significantly kinder. Poppins is described in the books as a woman who “never wastes time being nice” and is in fact rather a stern tyrant. She is always looking in mirrors because she feels only tenuously connected to the physical world. She has a cousin who is a snake. And she disappears at the end of the book with a “wild cry”.
Links to a couple of fun pieces of movie and book memorabilia for the true fan!