I am a sucker for stories with Nannies. I suspect it’s got something to do with the cozy British sound of the term. But it’s also because, as a child, I was entranced with the idea of an adult assigned to me: an adult whose job would be to look after, be concerned with, be interested in . . . me.
Now, I was an only child and certainly not lacking for attention from two very involved parents (whom I totally took for granted), so I never had a Nanny—but I came close when we lived for a time with my mother’s parents, when I was four-going-on-five. While my mother and father coped with house-hunting and the logistics of relocating from Florida to Atlanta, I was more or less turned over to the care of the woman who kept house for my grandmother.
Marie was my first best friend. Simple activities with her took on the tinge of adventure: trips down Peachtree Road to the grocer’s; “helping” with the housework. Marie was an endlessly patient source of arcane knowledge and expertise. She tested the iron by licking her finger and touching it to the hot surface! I was sure she had super powers.
Mary Poppins (from the classic series by P. L. Travers) and Nurse Matilda (the character penned by Christianna Brand upon whom Emma Thompson based her screenplay for Nanny McPhee) might have been able to do magic, but they had nothing on Marie for wisdom and kindness.
Children’s book nannies can be paragons of cleverness and common sense like Marie—the Fossil sisters’ Nana, from Noel Streatfeild’s Ballet Shoes; Harriet the Spy’s Ole Golly (created by Louise Fitzhugh), and free-lance child expert Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle, by Betty MacDonald, fall into this group—or they are perfectly awful termagants like Miss Bick from Edward Eager’s Half Magic.
Somewhere between is the unexpectedly sympathetic Odious Nanny of Lois Lowry’s hilarious parody, The Willoughbys.
And in a category all their own are the Darling family’s Newfoundland, Nana (from J. M. Barrie’s Peter Pan), and the title character of R. A. Spratt’s The Adventures of Nanny Piggins.
These are some of my favorite nanny stories to curl up with. Any I missed?
Bonnie Adamson regrets that her parents provided her with neither a magical nanny nor a retired circus pig—but is grateful for the books that continue to supply both.