Par­ents could learn a lot from Mary Pop­pins

AS FAVOURITE RE­TURNS EV­ERY­ONE’S TO NANNY CIN­E­MAS, CHIL­DREN’S LAU­RE­ATE LAU­REN CHILD TALKS TO HAN­NAH STEPHENSON ABOUT THE ICONIC CHAR­AC­TER’S AP­PEAL

Carmarthen Journal - - Book Shelf -

EMILY BLUNT may be bring­ing a new Mary Pop­pins to the big screen, but in the eyes of au­thor-il­lus­tra­tor and Chil­dren’s Lau­re­ate Lau­ren Child, Julie An­drews will al­ways be the na­tion’s favourite nanny.

The orig­i­nal film, re­leased in 1964, was in her mind when she was il­lus­trat­ing the lat­est hard­back edi­tion of Mary Pop­pins by PL Travers (first pub­lished in 1934), which sees the quirky, ec­cen­tric and mag­i­cal char­ac­ter brought back to life on the page in a pink and or­ange spotty dress, fly­ing above Lon­don rooftops, clutch­ing her flow­ered bag and green um­brella.

“As an il­lus­tra­tor, you have a duty to look at what it is the au­thor is try­ing to say and be true to their vi­sion. The only thing I felt that I really changed from her de­scrip­tion is Mary Pop­pins her­self, be­cause I just couldn’t imag­ine do­ing her any other way than as Julie An­drews,” says Lau­ren.

Lau­ren re­calls be­ing taken to see the orig­i­nal Dis­ney film as a young­ster on her first out­ing to a cin­ema. Now 53 – the award­win­ning cre­ator of Char­lie And Lola and ac­com­plished nov­el­ist with her Clarice Bean sto­ries and Ruby Red­fort teen de­tec­tive series – hasn’t yet seen Mary Pop­pins Re­turns, but is look­ing for­ward to tak­ing her adopted daugh­ter Tues­day, aged eight, to watch it.

One par­tic­u­lar story from the orig­i­nal book, which doesn’t ap­pear in the film adap­ta­tion, in­volves the no­tion that chil­dren can com­mu­ni­cate with an­i­mals un­til their first birth­day, at which point they for­get ev­ery­thing.

“It was such a won­der­ful yet melan­choly thought – and I can’t help won­der­ing if Travers was re­flect­ing upon how quickly the in­no­cence and imag­i­na­tion of child­hood is lost,” she writes in the fore­word.

“The over­all mes­sage of the book is about mak­ing child­hood joy­ful,” she says now.

“Mary Pop­pins is play­ing with th­ese chil­dren, tak­ing them on wild ad­ven­tures, and whether you be­lieve it’s magic or that she’s just get­ting their imag­i­na­tion to work, you’re al­ways left with a slight ques­tion as to if it’s true or not true.

“That’s such a play­ful qual­ity and a joy­ful un­der­stand­ing of chil­dren and their need to have fun.”

Par­ents could learn a lot from Mary Pop­pins. Lau­ren ob­serves that the fic­tional nanny was al­ways do­ing things with the chil­dren to stim­u­late imag­i­na­tions.

“I won­der if we’re try­ing to stim­u­late their imag­i­na­tion, or are we try­ing to fill them with ac­tiv­i­ties and show­ing them things con­stantly, rather than let­ting them dis­cover?

“Mary Pop­pins is ac­tu­ally out and about with those chil­dren and she’s part of it,” she pon­ders. “I’m not say­ing all par­ents need to be do­ing that, but Mary Pop­pins isn’t tak­ing the chil­dren to ac­tiv­i­ties and pres­suris­ing them into do­ing their home­work.

“She’s not hot-hous­ing them. She’s hav­ing fun with them.”

“I do think that chil­dren now are liv­ing in a very tough time, where there are pres­sures on them in school and at home, and what they are hav­ing to lis­ten to,” Lau­ren con­tin­ues.

“They are so much more aware of what’s go­ing on in the world through the me­dia, they un­der­stand much more of what’s go­ing on. Then there’s the pres­sure of Lau­ren il­lus­trated ex­ams, which weigh very a new edi­tion of heav­ily on chil­dren.

Mary Pop­pins “I think there’s a point to

hav­ing a joy­ful child­hood – it makes you more ro­bust and it makes you un­der­stand the world bet­ter. We are ask­ing chil­dren to be grown up too early.

“There’s a lot of talk about less screen time, but screens are there. I can’t see them go­ing away. We all use them. We say, ‘My child watches too much’, but what are we do­ing?

“You can’t ex­pect chil­dren not to be on th­ese things, when we are all do­ing it. We are hav­ing to nav­i­gate our way through it too,” says Lau­ren.

Lau­ren tries to en­sure her daugh­ter has a bal­anced life.

“It’s about en­cour­ag­ing her to do other things, rather than just be watch­ing stuff.

“I loved watch­ing tele­vi­sion when I was lit­tle and it did me a lot of good in many ways. But it’s just how much of it are you do­ing, and are you man­ag­ing to do other things as well?

“When my daugh­ter says to me, ‘I want to make pan­cakes’, I say OK, if I can. Some­times I think, ‘Oh my good­ness, I really don’t want to make some pan­cakes right now’, but then I can’t have it both ways. If I want her to be ex­cited about cook­ing, I can’t be a hyp­ocrite by say­ing, ‘No you can’t’.”

Might Mary Pop­pins be seen as old-fash­ioned by some younger au­di­ences?

“Well, you could say Harry Pot­ter is set in a strange board­ing school and there’s some­thing quite old-fash­ioned about that. But peo­ple love en­ter­ing other worlds. It doesn’t mat­ter. It’s about the ideas and the qual­ity of the sto­ry­telling.”

Lau­ren, who stud­ied art at Marl­bor­ough Col­lege, where her fa­ther was head of the art depart­ment, grew up in Berk­shire and did var­i­ous jobs after col­lege, in­clud­ing win­dow-dress­ing and lamp­shade de­sign.

She also worked as an as­sis­tant to Damien Hirst, be­fore em­bark­ing on a ca­reer as a writer and il­lus­tra­tor.

For years, she’s worked from home in north Lon­don, which she shares with her part­ner Adrian, a crim­i­nal bar­ris­ter, but she’s about to move to an of­fice where home life doesn’t dis­tract.

“Psy­cho­log­i­cally, peo­ple think you’re avail­able when you’re at home. But I want to leave work and come home. I have al­ways had trou­ble jug­gling work with home life.”

■ Mary Pop­pins by PL Travers, il­lus­trated by Lau­ren Child, is pub­lished by Harper­Collins Chil­dren’s Books, priced £20. Avail­able now. Mary Pop­pins Re­turns is in cin­e­mas now

There’s a lot of talk about less screen time, but screens are there. I can’t see them go­ing away.

Chil­dren’s Lau­re­ate Lau­ren Child has il­lus­trated a new edi­tion of Mary Pop­pins. Left, the clas­sic 1964 movie with Julie An­drews

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