A Reader's Guide to "Mandy" by Julie Andrews Edwards

Updated on October 12, 2016
Julie Andrews Edwards
Julie Andrews Edwards

Quick Facts

  • Title: Mandy
  • Author: Julie Andrews Edwards
  • Published 1971
  • Ages 8-12
  • Keywords: Orphan, orphanage, girls, gardens, secrets, cottage, nature, England

An Orphan Girl's Secret Hobby Becomes an Obsession

Julie Andrews Edwards’ Mandy, first published in 1971, works as a companion read to such classics as The Little Princess, The Secret Garden, and Anne of Green Gables, as it focuses on a girl longing for a home and taking comfort in her rich imagination. As a girl, I adored The Sound of Music and Mary Poppins, and learning that Julie Andrews had written a children’s book too was enough to grab my interest. And I wasn’t disappointed. Mandy became one of my favorites, one that I would return to over the years, including as an adult.

The story is fairly simple but it resonates deeply. Mandy, a ten-year-old orphan, has grown up in the orphanage in a small English village, St. Martin’s Green. As one of the oldest orphans in the home she enjoys special privileges, such as sharing an attic bedroom with her friend, Sue; working part-time at the grocery for pocket change; and having the freedom to take walks and play outside alone.

Still, despite her kind treatment and small freedoms, Mandy has bouts of sadness and restlessness, feeling the ache of never having known her parents, of never having a home of her own. So when she scales the wall behind the orphanage to explore and discovers an abandoned cottage in the woods, she comes up with a thrilling plan to claim the cottage as her own, fix it up, and enjoy her own secret place that is hers alone.

Thus, she begins this secret project, pulling weeds and planting flowers in the garden, cleaning up the cottage, and furnishing it with cutlery and household items “borrowed,” or pilfered, from the orphanage. Mandy quickly becomes obsessed with her cottage, to the point where she can’t bear to be away from it for long, and she guards her secret refuge even as she arouses the suspicions of Matron Bridie, the head of the orphanage, who notices her odd behavior (and items going missing from the kitchen and toolshed).

The book is divided into four parts named for the four seasons, beginning in spring and ending in winter, and these seasonal shifts reflect the changes in Mandy. In spring and summer, Mandy is blissful as her garden blooms and woodland creatures come visit seemingly without any fear of humans. But as winter approaches, Mandy’s worries start to pile on: Sue and Matron Bridie demand to know where she’s going each day, the cottage becomes more difficult to maintain, and the harsh weather begins to take a toll on Mandy’s health.

Just when Mandy’s secret life threatens to risk her very safety, an unexpected friend comes to the rescue, and Mandy learns that hiding away from the world cuts her off from the people who love her. In the last section of the book, she forges a relationship with a loving family, and in the end, she doesn’t need the cottage anymore. Mandy finds the family and home she’s always wanted.

The Book's Lasting Appeal

The book has a timeless quality; in fact, it’s hard to place it in any particular era. Except for the refreshing absence of modern technology, it could almost take place today. Edwards uses colorful details and imagery to describe the wondrous shell cottage and the nature surrounding it. Readers will be sucked in by the rich, almost lyrical language, and young children (girls especially) will identify with the sensitive Mandy and her yearning to have her own special place. Mandy’s love for plants and flowers may also foster an interest in gardening. Families can discuss many issues the novel raises, such as the importance of friends and family, the consequences of lying and stealing, the pride of ownership, and when it’s appropriate to keep or divulge secrets.

The 2006 edition in the Julie Andrews Collection features illustrations by Johanna Westerman that add to the charm and sweetness of the story.

Discussion Questions

  • Why does Mandy prefer to spend so much time alone? Is she lonely or content when she’s alone?
  • How does Mandy justify taking items from Jake and the orphanage without permission? Is she right or wrong? How does guilt affect Mandy?
  • Is taking care of the cottage a positive activity for Mandy? When does it start to become a negative activity?
  • Why does Mandy find working on the cottage so satisfying even when it’s hard work? What qualities does Mandy show by tackling such a big project?
  • Mandy is so determined to keep the cottage a secret that she tells several lies. How do Mandy’s lies grow bigger and bigger? What effect does this have on Mandy and her relationship with Matron Bridie? With Sue?
  • Is Mandy a good friend to Sue? Is Sue a good friend to Mandy? Why does Mandy forgive Sue for telling Mandy’s secret?
  • In what way is Mandy’s illness an “emotional illness” as well as a physical one?
  • Describe Mandy’s feelings for each of the Fitzgeralds. Why is she apprehensive about meeting Jonathan Fitzgerald?

Favorite Classic Children's Author

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