Through the Looking Glass Children's Book Reviews

Nanny McPhee Returns

Nanny McPhee Returns

Emma Thompson
Illustrator:  Scoular Anderson 
Fiction and Nonfiction
For ages 8 to 11
Bloomsbury , 2010   ISBN: 978-1599904726

Usually, when Emma Thompson is on a movie set, she is there to perform in the movie. In other words she is one of the actors. However, at the beginning of this book Emma is not wearing her actor hat. Instead, she is wearing her writer hat. For now at least she is watching what is going on as the actors and staff on the Nanny McPhee Returns set do their thing. She is also moaning about the weather (it is cold and wet), getting in the way, and writing about it all in her diary. Since not a great deal is going on, Emma has decided to tell us the story of Nanny McPhee Returns, which she wrote.

   The story really begins with Lord and Lady Carrington who have two daughters. One of these daughters, Prunella, is “conceited and vain,” and when it is time for her to marry she snatches up the richest aristocrat she can find. The other daughter, Isabel, is nothing like Prunella. She falls in love with a farmer called Rory and her parents get so furious about this that in the end Isabel and Rory elope. After they are married they move into Rory’s farm and have three children: Norman, Megsie and Vincent.

   When World War II breaks out in Europe Rory is called up and he goes off to fight. Of course his family misses him terribly, but they do their best to keep a stiff upper lip and they get on with the job of taking care of the family farm. When bombs start to fall on London, Prunella decides to send her two children to live on the farm. The children, Cyril and Celia, are horribly stuck up and they are appalled when they see the farm for the first time. Both children behave so badly that soon they are fighting (literally) with Norman, Megsie, and Vinnie. Poor Isabel is at her wits end. She cannot seem to make the children behave civilly to one another. And then something extraordinary happens. Nanny McPhee arrives on the scene.

   Though Nanny McPhee has not been summoned, she seems to understand what is going on perfectly. She tells the children that they are going to behave, and when they don’t (they are too busy fighting) she thumps her stick on the floor and terrible, truly terrible, things start to happen to the children. The children eventually realize that it is not wise to ignore Nanny McPhee. The stop fighting and go to bed. They don’t know it yet, but the first of Nanny McPhees five lessons is now complete.

   Nanny McPhee, who is a rather extraordinary magical person, shouldn’t have much trouble getting the children to shape up, but her task is complicated by the fact that Phil, Rory’s shiftless and useless brother, is trying to bully Isabel into selling the farm. Phil owns half of the farm and he needs the money desperately because he is in debt to some extremely nasty people. If he doesn’t find a way to pay them back they are going to hurt him. Phil is willing to do just about anything to get Isabel to cooperate.

   In this outrageously funny book Emma Thompson alternates her narrative between her diary entries describing the making of the Nanny McPhee Returns movie and the Nanny McPhee Returns story that she wrote. Readers will not only be entertained by her tale, but they will also learn a lot about what is like to make a film. They will realize that making movie magic takes a lot of patience, hard work, clever tricks and, in the case of this particular film, synthetic mud, uncomfortable costumes, and cooperative jackdaws. It is rather a miracle that Emma and the rest of the crew are able to make the movie at all!