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Mary Poppins: In Books and On Screen

Mary Poppins [DVD] 

I vividly remember watching Mary Poppins as a child. I loved all the songs, but had no idea the concept had originated as a series of books written by PL Travers. I discovered this recently when I watched Saving Mr Banks, a fantastic film about how Mary Poppins was brought to the big screen.

Travers was born in Australia and had a traumatic childhood. She began writing about Mary Poppins as a way to escape her difficult life; imagining a magical world similar to her favourite book, Peter Pan.

Saving Mr Banks [DVD] 

Saving Mr Banks showed the battle Walt Disney faced trying to persuade Travers to give him the rights to the film. Travers was a wonderfully bitter author, viciously protecting her work. I loved seeing her character develop over the course of the film and the way she stood up to Disney. It was so heartwarming to watch and is probably the best thing I’ve seen so far this year. It inspired me to get a copy of the original book, so I could see how Travers portrayed the magical nanny I knew so well. 

Mary Poppins - The Complete Collection (Includes all six stories in one volume) 

Mary Poppins , the book, was interesting to read but it felt dated. I was planning to read it to my children, but a quick scan of the first few pages made me realise it wasn’t for them. It was made up of a series of short stories (another reason I didn’t enjoy it) and captured a period of English life that no longer exists. Each short story revolved around a simple concept (eg. a trip to the butchers) and involved Mary Poppins taking the children along, producing the occasional magical moment.

The wind, with a wild cry, slipped under the umbrella, pressing it upwards as though trying to force it out of Mary Poppins’ 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.

It was charming (another adjective I avoid in books!) but so simple it was boring. I’m pleased I now have knowledge of this children’s classic, but have no desire to read the rest of the series. This is one of those rare cases where the film is better than the book – in fact where two films are better than the book!

Have you read Mary Poppins? Did you enjoy it as an adult/child?


16 replies on “Mary Poppins: In Books and On Screen”

Mary Poppins was the first film I saw in the cinema when it originally came out (I was 5). I loved it, but remember crying during the Sweeps ballet (Step in Time) I was so worried one of them might fall off the roof! It was one of my daughter’s favourite films (but now she’s a teenager, it’s off the radar again). I went on to read the books, but don’t remember them at all. Must see Saving Mr Banks though. I imagine Emma Thompson was brilliant in it.

Annabel, Aw. So sweet to think of your concern for them on the roof!

You really should see Saving Mr Banks – I think you’ll really enjoy it 🙂

I think I remember seeing the book, Mary Poppins, in my school library, but it’s surprising I never read it as a child, as I was so familiar with the movie. When my parents bought a VCR in the 1980’s, Mary Poppins was the first VHS tape they bought. Thanks for reading and reviewing it – I feel like I don’t have to try reading it now.
I didn’t see Saving Mr. Banks because I’m not generally a fan of biopic or biopic-adjacent films, especially when they involve film people, as I often suspect that they will be very insidery and indulgent. But I have consistently heard good things about Saving Mr. Banks so I’ll probably check it out sometime.

Christy, It would be interesting to know that you think of Saving Mr Banks. It does have a bit of insidery stuff that you’ll probably not enjoy, but so much of the rest is wonderful. If you enjoyed Mary Poppins as a child some of the scenes will bring back lovely memories 🙂

I love Saving Mr. Banks! I loved it so much, I went back and re-watch Mary Poppins (and loved it too). I never feel inclined to read the books though, and it seems I don’t miss much from your review. The movies are fantastic! 🙂

Mee, Yes, I think I need to re-watch Mary Poppins now too. It’s been a while since I saw it and I don’t think you can watch it too often. Can you?!

I read several of the books when I was a kid. They were…kinda racist. I would not give them to my own kids. They were kinda racist, and did not possess enough awesomeness to even start to counterbalance that. But the movie’s lovely. Julie Andrews is great.

Jenny, Yes, they are racist. It is actually nice to see how far things have progressed since then. I don’t get offended reading old books like that, but I do see how it might be bad to give them to children who might not realise how wrong the racism in them is.

Laurie, I’d been warned that the two versions of Mary were very different, but I thought they were quite similar. Many of the scenes from the book were repeated in the film and I thought their personalities were quite similar too. I can’t say anything about Dr Dolittle – I haven’t read those books. Wonder if I should?

My sister and I had the album from the movie and listened to it continously growing up. Love the movie! The high school I teach at is putting on the musical next year – very excited.

I don’t know if I”ve read the book, so I guess I haven’t. I forgot that I wanted to see Saving Mr Banks, so I must look into that. thanks for the reminder!

raidergirl3, You really should see Saving Mr Banks – it is wonderful!

I hope your school’s version of Mary Poppins is as exciting as it sounds! Fingers crossed!

Hi Jackie,
A family member has just recommended your site to me and I love it! When I read this piece about ‘Saving Mr Banks’ I had to leave a response as it is my favourite film of last year. After watching it on Sky I bought the dvd for my mum for Christmas and she absolutely loved it too. I had a lump in my throat and a smile on my face at the same time.


Thanks for commenting on my blog for the first time – and thanks for the kind words! I’m glad you enjoyed Saving Mr Banks as much as I did. Hopefully I’ll be able to make a few more recommendations for you in the future. 🙂

I never read the original book either. It does not sound like I would like it. It sounds like something written for very young children. I missed Saving Mr. Banks when it was out in the theatres, but it sounds like something C.J. would enjoy. He likes so few movies that when there is one he likes it’s kind of a big deal.

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