Day 30: Mary Poppins Makeover

Yesterday afternoon, our family joined two other families in New York City to see a matinee show of Mary Poppins. It’s been years since I’ve seen the movie, and I don’t remember much about the movie version except Julie Andrews wholeheartedly singing “A Spoonful of Sugar” and “Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious” (OK, I admit it, I looked up the spelling for that one!). But as I watched the Broadway production yesterday, I couldn’t help thinking that this story would make for a stupendous fractured tale.

What is a “fractured tale”? Well, fractured tales retell a familiar story with a twist. For an entertaining, clever example, read Jon Scieszka’s The True Story of the Three Little Pigs told from the perspective of A. Wolf, aka, the Big Bad Wolf. Or Scieszka’s The Frog Prince, Continued which takes an imaginative look at the relationship between the frog prince and his princess after their transformative kiss. These children’s books are good reads for kids and adults. I also enjoy the fracturing work that Rachel Isadora’s illustrations accomplish by setting fairytales like The Princess and the Pea in Africa.

What would I do to “fracture” the familiar Mary Poppins? Here are some ideas:

First, I think Mary Poppins could use a French makeover. No spoonful of sugar for you!

Second, I’d maintain the flexibility for the character’s sake, but I’d let the spunky woman take advantage of her self-defined freedom.. Mary Poppins already demands flexibility in her job. Love it! She chooses Wednesday as her night off even though her employers prefer a different night. She declares in the show that she “never explains herself.” She also decides — twice, without notice, and without telling her employers (the parents of the children in her charge) — that she is no longer needed. And she leaves! Why can’t she have a relationship with Bert, the chimney sweep that she seems so chummy and comfortable with? Girls flying around with umbrellas need excitement, too.

Next, Winifred Banks, the woman of the house, shares with her husband, George, her dreams of returning to her pre-married life as an actress. George tells her that he really wants to respect her, and that a return to the stage would make that impossible. It’s her job now to be his wife and to take charge of domestic matters. Later in the play, when George learns that he is being promoted at the bank and not fired, and the family becomes suddenly well-off because of his new salary, George tells Winifred that he’ll support her return to acting. Her reaction? She says she loves doing solely her “job” as a wife and that she wasn’t a very good actress anyway. My version would feature a more assertive Winifred, who figures out how to follow her dreams since Mary Poppins is taking fine care of her children anyway (except, of course, when she leaves without notice, but…).

Also, if I were Winifred, I’d ignore George’s demands. See #2. Her dreams would be worth more than the riches George makes later in the play.

When you fracture a tale, you have to keep something of the original in tact so the story and what has been changed are all recognizable. So what would I keep? The magical moments in the story, the sense that what children really need is some attention and spaces to be kids, and the idea — at least expressed in the musical — that the value of people is more important than the worth of money.

Do you have a favorite “fractured tale”? If you were to make a change to a widely familiar story, what would that change be?

(And if you’re looking for a way to get your kids writing, ask them to retell a favorite story from another character’s perspective, in a different setting, or with a different beginning or outcome. Send them in and I’ll post the stories!)

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