This page presents an overview of Noel Streatfeild's non-fiction
works. For detailed information on individual books
and articles, and on the
anthologies she edited,
click the items on the right hand side of the screen.
Noel Streatfeild wrote many non-fiction books for children, as
well as numerous articles aimed at both adults and children. Her
main topics were children's books, the arts, history (in particular,
English history) and advice for children and teenagers. In addition,
she wrote a number of autobiographical and biographical works
(listed separately in the Autobiography and
Biography section of this website).
Children's Books | The
Arts | History | Advice
Amost immediately following the publication of Ballet
Shoes, Noel began receiving invitations to lecture on
children's writing. At this time, her knowledge of the subject
was actually quite limited, and her lectures tended to focus on
books from her childhood and her own works.
Throughout her career, she continued to speak and write about
her own works: examples of this include articles such as "How
I Came to Write White Boots" and "How I Met
Her approach to children's literature as a whole underwent a
significant change after the Second World War. Thinking about
the effect books could have on young minds, Noel began to seriously
investigate books, magazines and comics written for children,
and she became convinced that standards needed to be raised. In
1949 she began lecturing on this subject, covering every aspect
of children's books - content, illustrations, the way they were
sold. As time went by, she was also inundated with children's
books for review. Noel's biographer, Angela
Her 'book of the month' selections show Noel
at her best as a critic, perceptive and original as she explains
her choices. But because there were few recognized experts on
children's books, and Noel's was a well-known name, she was
consistently asked to do far too much reviewing, so that she
was sometimes almost lost beneath the weight of books she was
expected to evaluate for newspapers, magazines, and Children's
Hour. Good thought it was that children's literature was beginning
to command more attention, the result for overworked Noel was
an inevitable lack of discrimination. Often she liked the books
she read, sometimes she detested them, but within the categories
of good and bad she seldom attempted to define shades, showing
equal enthusiasm for Winnie the Pooh and Andy-Pandy. ... But
in spite of the amount she read, and the range of books she
recommended, she was never able to stand back and make a detailed
analysis of trends, or to spot a rising talent before it was
generally recognised. (1984:209)
Noel's writing on children's books was almost exclusively restricted
to lectures and articles/reviews. The only full length work she
wrote on the subject was her biographic/critical analysis of E.
Nesbit (covered in the Autobiography and Biography
section of this website).
Noel was always keenly interested in cultivating children as
an audience for the arts, and particularly in inspiring others
with the wonder she had always felt with the world of ballet.
One of her earliest forays into this was in the 1940s, when she
wrote a four-part serial on Sadler's Wells Ballet School for Collins
Magazine. In 1959, she revisted this as a full length book,
The Royal Ballet School. Other works about ballet include
The First Book of the Ballet (1956), A Young Person's
Guide to Ballet (1975) and numerous articles, such as "Beryl
Grey's Russian First Night", "A Question for Moira Shearer"
and "Two Child Dancers" (the last of which talks about
her own experiences seeing Ninette de Valois and Irina Baronova,
and how they influenced her in writing Ballet
In these works, Noel urges appreciation and understanding of
ballet as an art form (as she does with opera in Enjoying
Opera/The First Book of the Opera). As Nancy
Huse points out, she also stresses some of her favourite themes:
"the value of teachers in bringing out talents, the richness of
tradition and innovation in ballet, and the inadequacy of laws
limiting children's access to training in the arts" (1994:132).
Noel also used her personal experience in the theatrical world
in articles such as "Stage Door", in which she presents
some of the realities of the theatre to aspiring actors.
In 1951, Noel wrote The Picture Story Book of Britain,
designed to explain to a young American audience what is is like
to live in the British Isles. However, the real starting point
for her enthusiasm for writing about history - in particular,
English history - is more likely to be found in her 1953 book,
Treasure. Although a work of fiction, this story also
presents a social history of England, and this led to other works
which, in Nancy Huse's words,
"emphasized the value of an English heritage" (1994:103).
These works include The First Book of England (1958),
The Thames: London's Royal River (1964) and The First
Book of Shoes (1967). She also edited an anthology - The
Day Before Yesterday: Firsthand Stories of Fifty Years Ago
(1956) - of stories about child workers in the past.
One of Noel's most significant, and critically acclaimed, histories
does not, in fact, deal with England. The Boy Pharaoh, Tutankhamen
(1972) covers both the life and society of Tutankhamen,
and the present day archaeologist making the groundbreaking discoveries.