Fictional nannies we love

If stepmothers get a bad rap in literature, nannies are their fictional antidote. Widely portrayed as kindly and reliable creatures, they are often a child's closest ally, doling out practical advice and providing a shoulder to cry on where parents inevitably fail.

From Mary Poppins' gravity-defying prowess to the stoic loyalty of Nana the Newfoundland, here are some of our favourite nannies from the realms of literature:

  • Mary Poppins

    From the Mary Poppins books by P. L. Travers

    "With her large bag in her hands she slid gracefully up the banisters, and arrived at the landing at the same time as Mrs. Banks. Such a thing, Jane and Michael knew, had never been done before. Down, of course, for they had often done it themselves. But up -- never! They gazed curiously at the strange new visitor."

    Practically perfect in every way, it's little wonder Mary Poppins holds the Banks children in her thrall. She's firm but fair with an uncanny ability to spread magic wherever she goes.

    Photo from the 1964 film Mary Poppins

  • Nana

    From Peter and Wendy by J.M. Barrie

    "As they were poor, owing to the amount of milk the children drank, this nurse was a prim Newfoundland dog, called Nana, who had belonged to no one in particular until the Darlings engaged her... She proved to be quite a treasure of a nurse."

    Mr Darling might not be a fan but the rest of the Darling family are quick to defend their beloved Nana - and who can blame them? A dog nanny is every child's dream come true.

    Photo from the 1953 film Peter Pan

  • Aibileen Clark

    From The Help by Kathryn Stockett

    "And I swear I see, down inside, the woman she gone grow up to be. A flash from the future. She is tall and straight. She is proud. She got a better haircut. And she is remembering the words I put in her head. Remembering as a full grown woman. And then she say it, just like I need her to. 'You is kind,' she say, 'you is smart. You is important.'"

    Toddler Mae Mobley is stranded in a cruel world; her mother is critical and her father indifferent. Only her maid, Aibileen Clark, is there to shower her with love and remind her of a heart-breaking mantra; 'you is kind, you is smart, you is important.'

    Photo from 2011 film The Help

  • Nurse Matilda

    From the Nurse Matilda books by Christianna Brand

    "Once upon a time there was a huge family of children; and they were terribly, terribly naughty."

    Woe betide anyone who crosses Nurse Matilda; she'll sort you out in two stamps of her magical stick. Faced with a giant family running amok, she soon shows the children who's boss - but a heart of gold lurks beneath the tough love treatment.

    Photo from the 2005 film Nanny McPhee

  • Nanny Schuester

    From The Nanny Diaries by Emma McLaughlin and Nicola Kraus

    "And he doesn't care what you're wearing or what you've brought him. He just wants you there. Wanting him. And time is running out. He won't love you unconditionally that much longer. And soon he won't love you at all."

    From 1960s Mississippi to modern day Manhattan, infant Grayer also finds himself surrounded by strangely cold parents. He has access to every privilege on the Upper East Side but it's up to Nanny to show him what true love and companionship feels like.

    Photo from 2007 film The Nanny Diaries

  • Cuffy

    From The Saturdays and other books by Elizabeth Enright

    The Melody family's mother may (conveniently) be dead but Cuffy is more than enough of a substitute. She bakes endless batches of cookies, tells excellent stories and generally scolds, fusses over and comforts her boisterous rabble in the way only truly stalwart nannies can.

  • Rosaleen Daise

    From The Secret Life of Bees by Sue Monk Kidd

    "Lily knows that Rosaleen loves her. She realized this love one Easter, when Rosaleen brought her a chick, then stood up to T. Ray when he demanded Lily get rid of it. Lily often daydreams that Rosaleen becomes her mother and that they run away together."

    Proud, outspoken and with a huge heart, Rosaleen is the only mother figure teenager Lily has in a lonely and abusive household. With Rosaleen's support, Lily is able to access a new life for herself in 1960s South Carolina - one that rises above prejudice, neglect and the demons of her past.

    Photo from 2008 film The Secret Life of Bees

  • Nanny

    From the Eloise books by Kay Thompson

    "Nanny has lived with us for as long as I remember and next to my mother, is the person I love most in the whole world. Nanny is English and likes to say everything three times. When I asked her why, she sniffed and told me not to be 'rude, rude, rude.'"

    Eloise's English nanny is stern, kind and eccentric in equal measure. She's a central part of Eloise's glittering life at the Plaza hotel and is brought to life beautifully by Julie Andrews (the doyenne of the film nanny world) in the TV adaptations of Kay Thompson's books.

    Photo from 2003 TV movie Eloise at Christmastime

  • Nanny Hawkins

    From Brideshead Revisited by Evelyn Waugh

    "Sebastian’s Nanny was seated at the open window; the fountain lay before her, die lakes, the temple, and, far away on the last spur, a glittering obelisk; her hands lay open in her lap and, loosely between them, a rosary; she was fast asleep."

    Nanny Hawkins is a beloved and nostalgic but rather remote figure in the riotous lives of the four Marchmain children. With the bulk of her childcare days behind her, she resides in her own wing of the family home, with her grown-up charges popping by for life advice and gossip.

    Photo from the 1981 TV adaptation of Brideshead Revisited

  • Mrs. Doubtfire

    From Madame Doubtfire by Anne Fine

    "I can hip-hop, be-bop, dance till ya drop, and yo yo, make a wicked cup of cocoa."

    Madame Doubtfire (the alter ego estranged father Daniel masquerades as, to get access to his kids) is the cross-dressing nanny we all love to love. From killer soccer skills to hoover dancing and an impressive ability to carry off a pair of fake breasts, she's a constant source of entertainment. If only she were real.

    Photo from the 1993 film Mrs. Doubtfire