A fun and fantastical adventure in the spirit of classic British children’s stories from
Peter Pan to The Secret Garden to the works of P.L. Travers.
How did one prickly, imperious schoolgirl—not particularly fond of children—become London’s most original nanny? The Great War is over, but Marabel’s father still has not come home. Soon to graduate from her mother’s School for White-Blouse Professions in London, Marabel misses him dearly. Otherwise her ambition is to become a country postmistress where she need not deal with other people. Then the King sends her on a quest. Her mother gives her a magic heirloom and Marabel—dragging her 10-year-old brother Thomas with her—flies through time and space to retrieve the soldier who won the Great War’s greatest medal. She is to bring him to a royal celebration at Stonehenge—in only two weeks! So many monarchs to contend with: the King wants Marabel to bring back storied legends to help him celebrate. King Cobra from the London Zoo wants Marabel to free the animals. Angus the West Highland terrier wants to dethrone King Cobra and become King of the Beasts. And handsome artist Bharat Gupta wants to save Marabel from the mystery man following them.
But why is her father hiding the unknown soldier behind the medal? And how do Marabel and Bharat end up on trial for treason? What she learns and how she comes of age makes Marabel leave behind the tedium of sorting other peoples’ letters to become a prickly, imperious—and magical—nanny.
What is the book about?
It’s an adventure story about a British schoolgirl, about to graduate into a dull life as a postmistress, sent instead on a magic quest to find the soldier who won the Great War’s greatest medal. She tests her courage, finds a true friend in her art teacher Bharat Gupta. They are both tried for treason! And through learning to love children, Marabel decides to become a nanny. It’s also very funny. The King reads books under the bedcovers with a flashlight. The little dog Angus, who wants to take over the animal kingdom, leads a gang of ladies’ pets.
What inspired you to write the book?
Whenever the world seems too much for me, I read a classic children’s book. The Secret Garden is my favourite. J.M. Barrie’s Peter Pan is beautifully written—he describes Peter Pan as still having his baby teeth. That tells you so much, in less than a sentence. People deserve a good read whether they’re 9 or 90.
Tell us more about the story.
It’s got three kings in it: the King of England, King Arthur, and King Cobra, the true King of the Beasts in Regent’s Park Zoo. There’s also the terrier Angus, who fancies himself King of the Beasts until he meets King Cobra!
Isn’t it about Mary Poppins?
Some may think so. It’s inspired by the writings of P.L. Travers, certainly, but more by her essays on spiritualism later in her life. Marabel’s cheeky brother Thomas, for example, is Travers’ Younger Son, ‘king of the world in search of a biscuit.’ I wrote Marabel with a mixture of silliness and story that is very much my own way of looking at life.
Why P.L. Travers?
Pamela Travers’ understanding about stories through the ages and heroes and heroines was extraordinary and imaginative. She knew Greek and Hindu mythology, for example. Travers was a difficult person in her personal life, but I think as a writer she got a bad rap.
Would Travers have been treated so nastily in Saving Mr. Banks if she were a man? Thomas Wolfe fought with his editor over every line of 60,000 pages cut from Look Homeward, Angel. There aren’t recordings of his cantankerousness, however.
Why didn’t you write about Mary Poppins?
The Travers estate wouldn’t permit it, so I made a much better story. Marabel has a brother, parents, and discovers the heroes of fables and folktales aren’t all they’re cracked up to be. The story found its own path.
Have you written children’s books before?
Not at all! I used to be an investigative journalist, believe it or not! A story of mine that won two awards was actually about medicine and technology. But when a good story of any kind seizes me, I can’t let go. I wanted to write a story that children and adults can enjoy together, whether they are parents, aunts, or grandparents. And talk about it, like families did with the Harry Potter series. Modern children’s books, whether realistic or fantasy, are a bit dark for parents. With MARABEL, girls can identify with Marabel’s eccentricities while their parents can be moved by the story’s concept of the unknown soldier, for example.
What are you working on now?
I’m dreaming up more stories for Marabel and the cast of funny characters in the book. She fulfilled a quest for King and country, discovered her magic powers, and flown through time and space. Who knows what she’ll take on next?
Thank you, Barbara Wade Rose and Bruce Mason
About the Author
BARBARA WADE ROSE is a former journalist and winner of the Magazines Canada Gold Award and the Science in Society Journalism Award. She worked as San Francisco correspondent for Maclean’s and wrote for the Globe and Mail, the New York Times, Saturday Night, Chatelaine, Books in Canada and many national magazines. She is the author of BUDGE: What happened to Canada’s King of Film, and The Priest, the Witch & the Poltergeist in print and on Audible.com. She lives in Toronto.