Nannies in literature: nurturing, magical, murderous.

Nannies, hired to care for the children full time while the parents are working, are supportive, warm, and sweet… Most of the time. Literary nannies, just like fictional parents, are an important part of the lives of the children they raise, and the stories they are a part of, but they aren’t always as they seem.

Mary Poppins, one of literature’s best known nanny thanks to the Disney movie, is far less sugary in the original novels by P.L Travers. Her nanny persona is more like an other-worldly being than a woman in a nurturing vocation. In Lullaby by Leila Slimani, the nanny is technically a better nanny than Mary Poppins: she sews, she cooks…Until she snaps and gets stabby with a sushi knife. It is so hard to find good help these days, don’t you agree?

Here are some of the best and worst literary nannies ever to cross the pages of a book.

“Ella is flat broke: wasting away on bodega coffee, barely making rent, seducing the occasional strange man who might buy her dinner. Unexpectedly, an Upper East Side couple named Lonnie and James rescue her from her empty bank account, offering her a job as a nanny and ushering her into their moneyed world. Ella’s days are now spent tending to the baby in their elegant brownstone or on extravagant excursions with the family. Both women are just 26–but unlike Ella, Lonnie has a doting husband and son, unmistakable artistic talent, and old family money.

Ella is mesmerised by Lonnie’s girlish affection and disregard for the normal boundaries of friendship and marriage. Convinced there must be a secret behind Lonnie’s seemingly effortless life, Ella begins sifting through her belongings, meticulously cataloguing lipstick tubes and baby teeth and scraps of writing. All the while, Ella’s resentment grows, but so does an inexplicable and dizzying attraction. Soon Ella will be immersed so deeply in her cravings–for Lonnie’s lifestyle, her attention, her lovers–that she may never come up for air.”

“When their new nanny, Mary Poppins, arrives on a gust of the East Wind, greets their mother, and slides up the banister, Jane and Michael’s lives are turned magically upside down.

Familiar to anyone who has seen the film or the West End adaptation, you can now read all six of these wonderfully original tales about Jane and Michael’s adventures with the magical Mary Poppins. In each book Mary takes the children on the most extraordinary outings: to a fun fair inside a pavement picture; to visit Uncle Andrew who floats up to the ceiling when he laughs; on a spectacular trip to see the Man-in-the-Moon! With her strict but fair, no-nonsense attitude, combined with amazing magical powers, things are never straightforward with Mary Poppins! But she has only promised to stay until the wind changes…”

“In the summer of 1974, Mandy River arrives in London to make a fresh start and begins working as nanny to the children of one Lady Morven. She quickly finds herself in the midst of a bitter custody battle and the house under siege: Lord Morven is having his wife watched. According to Lady Morven, her estranged husband also has a violent streak, yet she doesn’t seem the most reliable witness. Should Mandy believe her?

As Mandy tries to shield her young charges from harm, her friend Rosemary watches from the wings – an odd girl with her own painful past and a rare gift. This time, though, she misreads the signs.

Drawing on the infamous Lord Lucan affair, this compelling novel explores the roots of a shocking murder from a fresh perspective and brings to vivid life an era when women’s voices all too often went unheard.”

“Madame Doubtfire by bestselling author Anne Fine is a wonderfully funny, punchy story about family life. Lydia, Christopher and Natalie are used to domestic turmoil. Their parents’ divorce has not made family life any easier in either home. The children bounce to and from their volatile mother, Miranda, and their out-of-work actor father, Daniel. Then Miranda advertises for a cleaning lady who will look mind the children after work – and Daniel gets the job, disguised as Madame Doubtfire.

This bittersweet, touching and extremely funny book inspired the highly successful film Mrs Doubtfire, starring the late Robin Williams.”

“When Myriam, a brilliant lawyer, decides to return to work, she and her husband look for a nanny for their two young children. They never dreamed they would find Louise: a quiet, polite and devoted woman who sings to their children, cleans the family’s chic Paris apartment, stays late without complaint and hosts enviable birthday parties. But as the couple and their nanny become more and more dependent on each other, jealousy, resentment and suspicions increase, until Myriam and Paul’s idyllic domesticity is shattered…”

“When Rowan stumbles across the advert, it seems like too good an opportunity to miss: a live-in nanny position, with a very generous salary. And when she arrives at Heatherbrae House, she is smitten by the luxurious ‘smart’ home fitted out with all modern conveniences by a picture-perfect family.

What she doesn’t know is that she’s stepping into a nightmare – one that will end with a child dead and her in cell awaiting trial for murder.

She knows she’s made mistakes. But she’s not guilty – at least not of murder. Which means someone else is…”

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