Noel Streatfeild
Noel Streatfeild's Life Children's Fiction Adults' Fiction Non-Fiction Autobiography and Biography Resource Materials    



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

Children's Books

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 Margaret Thursday".

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 Bull, says:

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).

The Arts

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 Shoes).

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, The Fearless 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.


Noel edited a number of collections of advice for children and teenagers: in Nancy Huse's view this was motivated "in part by economic gain and in part by her increasing delight in being a resource for the young and for an ideal of citizenship rooted in her family's social position" (1994:133).

The first of these was The Years of Grace (1950), book of personal and career advice to help readers "avoid being a misfit like I was" (1950:13). It was followed by Growing Up Gracefully (1955), a book on manners and etiquette, and Confirmation and After (1963), a "step-by-step approach to the subject of being a Christian" (1963:2). Possibly as a result of this, Noel later wrote Before Confirmation (1967).







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