The Mary Poppins we all know from Disney’s classic movie is even more of a larger-than-life figure in the books by P.L. Travers from which it was adapted. When fathers read the books aloud to their kids, those kids will learn things about life in this inscrutable universe that they probably won’t learn anywhere else, starting (and ending) with the unavoidable fact that the universe is inscrutable.
The eight Mary Poppins books by P. L. Travers (especially the first four) brim with common sense, empathy, wonder, and wisdom. Most fathers will, sooner or later, do their best to teach these things to their own children. It can be difficult. So why not let Mary Poppins do some of the heavy lifting?
Here are five lessons children can learn from the movie, but even more powerfully from the books when you read them aloud:
1. Whether you behave peevishly or kindly towards others, your actions and words will come back to you in unexpected ways. 1 of 5
To put it in contemporary parlance, what goes around comes around. But let's face it: This concept is unclear to an awful lot of adults, never mind their children. In the Poppins books, we see many convincing examples of this principle in true-to-life action. In drawing Jane's and Michael's characters, Travers has revealed the innermost thoughts of children we all have known (such as ourselves). The result: This is great stuff for kids. And if you're lucky, your children will recognize themselves in Jane and Michael Banks. Watch for it.
2. The best and worst things in life often have no explanation. 2 of 5
Yup. This is inscrutable universe stuff, and it can be tough for children (and most adults) to accept. Children expect an explanation for everything they see, feel, or experience. Much of the time, they get an explanation from their parents or teachers. But, as everyone knows, Mary Poppins never explains anything, and it takes a while for Jane and Michael to finally accept this. Her sudden arrival is a transcendent gift, her unexpected departure a profound loss. Kids need help understanding stuff like this, and parents often struggle trying to explain it. So, again, why not let Mary Poppins do some of the heavy lifting?
3. Be careful what you wish for. 3 of 5
Travers provides vivid examples of wishes gone awry in the Mary Poppins books. Even unspoken wishes have a way of being granted to Jane and Michael, often to their dismay or terror. But when Mary comes to their rescue, she never rubs it in.
4. Individuals you encounter in your everyday life may be endowed with rare gifts and powers unknown to you. 4 of 5
Imagine meeting Albert Einstein when he was in grade school. Or Robert De Niro when he was waiting tables. Or Philip Glass when he was driving taxis. In Mary Poppins' world, these gifts and powers are magical. But how do we know they aren't magical when they happen to us in the real world?
5. Be on the lookout for unexpected mirth and outlandish displays of beauty. 5 of 5
Of course, joy comes quite naturally to children. But not so much to stuffy, pretentious adults, plenty of whom appear throughout the Poppins books. Most of them are forever grateful to learn a lesson or two from Mary. And chances are, you will be, too.