• Happy birthday Jez Alborough (Duck in the Truck).
  • It’s the birth date of Robert Louis Stevenson (1850–1894), Treasure Island, The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr. Hyde.
  • The Montgomery Bus Boycott ends in 1956. Read Freedom Walkers by Russell Freedman, Walking to the Bus-Rider Blues by Harriet Gillem Robinet and Rosa by Nikki Giovanni and Bryan Collier.
  • In 1982, the Vietnam Veterans Memorial is dedicated in Washington, D.C., Read Always to Remember: The Story of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial by Brent Ashabranner and The Wall by Eve Bunting.
  • English nobleman John Montagu, the fourth Earl of Sandwich, was born on this day in 1718. Legend has it he once instructed his servants to bring him meat between two pieces of bread. To celebrate this expeditious occasion, it’s National Sandwich Day.

On November 13, 1926, a short story appeared in a New Zealand newspaper, the Christchurch Sun, by a young writer, who had emigrated to England from Australia. It recounted the saga of an “underneath nurse” age seventeen, and her charges Jane, Michael, Barbara, and John. On a day out, she puts on gloves, tucks a parrot-headed umbrella under her arm, and meets Bert, a pavement artist. This story eventually became part of a book published eight years later—P. L. Travers’s now-classic Mary Poppins.

If you know Mary only through her interpretation in the Walt Disney movie, you have missed one of the great characters in children’s literature. Conventional wisdom says that young readers focus only on the children in their fiction, having little use for the adults. But Mary Poppins is one of the exceptions to that rule. Salty, mysterious, vain, sharp of tongue, and independent in the extreme, Mary makes life in the Banks household very exciting for her young charges. They encounter an ancient candy storeowner, whose self-regenerating fingers happened to be made of barley sugar; she levitates everyone so that they have tea parties on the ceiling; and she can speak to the animals and interpret animal speech. In fact, she supports anarchy and defies authority every moment of her life as a nanny. Anita Diamant, author of The Red Tent, was just one of many children inspired by Mary Poppins: “I never wanted Mary Poppins to be my nanny. I wanted to be Mary Poppins when I grew up.” (from Everything I Need to Know I Learned from a Children’s Book)

I actually met P. L. Travers on her last tour to America, and I am happy to report that she herself was as sharp-tongued and eccentric as her beloved character. “I don’t write for children at all. I turn my back on them,” she once said. Fortunately, young readers have never agreed with her. So happy birthday Mary Poppins—may you have many, many more.

Here’s a passage from Mary Poppins:

The wind, with a wild cry, slipped under the umbrella, pressing it upwards as though trying to force it out of Mary Poppins’s hand. But she held on tightly, and that, apparently, was what the wind wanted her to do, for presently it lifted the umbrella higher into the air and Mary Poppins from the ground. It carried her lightly so that her toes just grazed along the garden path. Then it lifted her over the front gate and swept her upwards towards the branches of the cherry-trees in the Lane.



Originally posted November 13, 2010. Updated for .

Tags: Adventure, Humor, Magic
Instructional materials from TeachingBooks.net for Mary Poppins


  1. How wonderful that you met Travers! I love the passage you chose too – beautiful writing that sweeps us up too.

  2. Sarah says:

    Happy birthday indeed! I must dig out my copy of Mary Poppins and read it again. Such wonderful writing.

    I would like to point out that the Christchurch Sun was actually a New Zealand newspaper (published in Christchurch, New Zealand), not an Australian one.

  3. Anita says:

    Thanks for the comment — and the correction.

  4. Star says:

    My mom read us (her 5 girls) Mary Poppins when we were young. I went away to college having never seen the movie. One day, I was talking with my roommate about Mary Poppins stuff that happened in the book. She told me I was crazy, that it was one of her favorite movies, and that stuff did NOT happen…I must be confused. She couldn’t believe I’d never seen the movie, and I couldn’t believe she’s never read the book. I saw the movie about 10 years ago and although the music was fun, it doesn’t do justice to Travers’ story at all! You’re so right, Anita!

  5. suzi w. says:

    I saw the movie first, so that is the Mary that is imbedded, but I love the books too. I am so jealous that you got to meet P.L. My favorite of hers is not the Mary Poppins books but “About the Sleeping Beauty” which is quoted extensively in Jane Yolen’s Briar Rose. I think I should reread the Mary Poppins books soon. (And watch the movie–I love them both.) (I’m of a mind that it is okay to love both, if both are done well.)

  6. Anita says:

    Suzi: I, too, love the movie. Like Wizard of Oz I think it one of the best films based on a children’s book. Even thinking of it has had me singing tunes today.

  7. Merrilee says:

    HI Anita, I just found your website after a post from Jane Yolen on FB. I have always been a great fan of children’s books, worked in a library as the children’s librarian and a children’s bookstore. I am also a storyteller seeing about 1200 kiddos a month from PreS-5th. I will recommend your site to all my teachers as I feel sometimes the teachers don’t have time to research what books to read to their students and what to recommend. I love that you are not just reviewing recent publications but the old classics! Hats off to you!
    I read your article about the recent changes in PB publication. Having been in the business of children’s books for more than 25 years, I have witnessed some sad changes. The 90’s brought about many PB for older children put into board books which was my pet peeve! The length of story I could read to Preschool storytimes changed drastically in the 25 years. i continued to look for well written PB’s with interesting illustrations and story content more than 500 words (my basement is filled with great books just waiting for future grandchildren!) I recently found the children’s section of PB at large bookstores to be lacking so I am happy to hear that is changing again.
    In the meantime, I have acquired some wonderful old classics for Christmas written by Sven Nordqvist. His books are what a PB should be! The illustrations are charming and full of detail and the story is captivating. They were written in the 80’s and I was reminded of them when I saw your post for tomorrow will be on Pippi Longstocking, another of my favories along with Mary Poppins. My mother read the whole series to us.
    Have you ever reviewed the Wizard of Oz series? Those were read to us also and were magical.
    Thank you for your site! I look forward to opening the page every day!
    Merrilee H

  8. Anita says:

    Merrilee: Thanks for the note. If you go over to the left hand side of the page, you’ll see the Find a Book feature. There you can search by author, month, type of book. You’ll be able, easily, to find my Wizard of Oz review. There are now about 370 books that you can search this way.
    Thanks for your nice comments about the site. Happy to have you as a reader.

  9. Merrilee says:


  10. You are right, Anita, Mary Poppins is definitely an exception to the rule! She is an adult who children love, and who takes us all on lots of fun adventures! So wonderful that you got to meet PL Travers! I am sure Mary will last for many more years to come

  11. Jenn says:

    Great post about PL Travers. I am looking forward to seeing the upcoming movie, Saving Mr. Banks (http://movies.disney.com/saving-mr-banks/).

  12. G. Perry says:

    I read this sometime back but somehow missed commenting on it.

    I knew since Anita reviewed the book, it was going to be great, but I didn’t really know what to expect. I’d seen the film several times.

    I was absolutely delighted by the quality of the writing and the story. I enjoyed the book enough to put it on my “Buy” list. There is a good deal more material in the book as compared to the film, and all great fun.

    I have so many “Buy!” comments in Anita’s standard-setting “100 Best Books for children” that my hardwood floors are starting to sag like the floors in a 1750s New England house. Yikes!

  13. Whitney says:

    As late as I have read the Mary Poppins book, I am still one of the first in my circle to have ventured away from the movie-and an eye-opener that was! (I am imagining Dick Van Dyke saying that last part in his faux accent.) I particularly love the cow searching for the star that fell on her horn and made her dance.

    Are you dreading or anticipating the upcoming movie about P. L. Travers with Emma Thompson?

  14. Sarah Tuttle says:

    I remember being confused by the book, because I saw the movie first. But, I still loved the book! It may have been the first time I decided that I had to treat books and movies based on books as completely different works of art… the differences were so vast, comparing the two made no sense!

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