Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Children's Literature: P. L. Travers

P. L. Travers was born Helen Lyndon Goff in Australia, in 1899.  She grew up in Queensland and New South Wales, and started writing poetry as a teenager.  She trained as an actress and adopted the name Pamela Lyndon Travers as a stage name.  After some years with a Shakespearean company in Australia, she emigrated to England in 1924.  There she focused more on her writing (she particularly admired and emulated J. M. Barrie) and continued to use her stage name.

In 1933 Travers wrote Mary Poppins, a story about some naughty children who get a new nurse.  Mary Poppins is grumpy, vain, and impatient, but the children love her all the more.  They have magic adventures, which Mary Poppins always angrily denies afterwards.  This series became very popular and was eventually adapted into a Disney film, which Travers quite disliked.  She felt she was badly treated (which she was, though it also sounds like she tried to demand some pretty unreasonable things, such as the animation sequences being taken out--after the film premiere!).  I find that most people have seen the movie but never read the books, which is why I include Travers here--please go read the books!  They are lots of fun and very different from the movie.  I think they are much better.

The first Mary Poppins book has a chapter called "Bad Tuesday," which originally contained some racial stereotypes that were, at best, really embarrassing.  Mary takes the children on a visit around the world and they meet people from north, south, east, and west.  In 1981, Travers re-wrote the chapter to feature animals instead.  I'm actually not wild about the animals either, even though I think the idea behind the chapter is great. 

My own favorite adventure is "Bad Wednesday," which is in the second book.  It's scary and creepy.  Every kid should read it!

Travers wrote several other books besides the Mary Poppins stories, and I'd like to particularly point out I Go By Sea, I Go By Land.  This is the 'diary' of an 11-year-old girl, Sabrina, who has left her home in England because of World War II and is traveling with her brother James across the ocean to the United States.  It's somewhat based on Travers' own experience escorting two children on the same trip (she is a character in the book, though a minor one).  It's a really great book, one that is no longer well-known at all, and I hope you'll read it if you get the chance.

Like so many good writers (maybe just like so many people), Travers seems to have maybe been a little difficult to live with sometimes.  She adopted a baby boy (named Camillus!) but refused to take his twin brother, so the boys were separated.  They did reunite later in life.  Who does that??


hopeinbrazil said...

I loved the Mary Poppin books, but did not know Travers had written anything else. Thanks for pointing out the WWII diary.

amanda @ simplerpastimes said...

Ages ago I checked Mary Poppins out from the library, but never read it for some reason--really, I should rectify that. I Go By Sea, I Go By Land sounds interesting, too--just the idea of seeing the perspective of a child who was displaced by the war.


Hi Jean, I'm Maria from Indonesia and just wanna say hello :D
This year I'm also co-hosting a children classic's literature in my blog, so I'm very anxious to see another source on this genre, specially the uncommon writer, Thanks for all the information, can I link-back to my blog ?

Jean said...

Hi Maria, thanks for asking! Certainly you may. I'm glad to see more talk about children's literature! :)