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In her long and productive life (1895-1986), Mary Noel Streatfeild lived through two world wars, wrote both children, adult and autobiographical books, worked for ten years as a stage actress then founded and served as editor for her own ballet and acting magazine. She was known as the “plain” sister of her family and was considered the wild and often unruly one as well. But it was this spunk, ambition and curiosity which made her one of the most prolific authors of her time, with more than 80 titles to her name—many of which were written for children and most of which have never been out of print.
Born in Sussex, England, Noel was the daughter of Vicar William Streatfeild who eventually became the Bishop of Lewes. Her life as a vicar’s daughter was the subject of her later semi-autobiographical novels, A Vicarage Family, Away from the Vicarage and Beyond the Vicarage. Streatfeild’s family was a large one with six children, Noel being the second. And although she was the “plain” one, when Noel discovered the theater and acting upon reaching adulthood, she shone on stage and worked successfully in the theater for 10 years, an experience which helped fill her later children’s books; particularly the “shoes” stories, with a unique and much appreciated perspective.
But Streatfeilds’s first novel, The Whicharts, published in 1931, wasn’t a children’s novel. It did however, provide Streatfeild with a successful writing formula and drew attention to her talent. Then, in 1936, with the encouragement of her editor and using her own experience from the stage, Noel wrote and published her first children’s book, Ballet Shoes. And although Streatfeild herself didn’t care for the book, it was an immediate success and was a runner-up for the Carnegie Medal which her third children’s book, The Circus is Coming, did win in 1939. Noel went on to write a “series” of “shoes” children’s books based on the charcters of independent children doing adventurous and admirable things, usually somewhere in the arts or theater. During WWII and beyond, Streatfeild continued to write until eventually, she had written well over 58 children’s book, many adult novels, literary critiques, plays, scripts and 12 adult romance novels under the pen name, Susan Scarlett. Her Bell Family series of books became a popular radio show during the years 1949 to 1953, and was frequently voted top radio play of the year. Her collection of semi-autobiographical works mentioned above, were published in the 60s and 70s.
As she aged, Streatfeild began having a series of small strokes until in 1979, she went to live in a nursing home. In 1983, she received the honor Officer of the Order of the British Empire (OBE) and in September of 1986, Noel Streatfeild passed away, leaving a delightful legacy of work behind, to be enjoyed and cherished, even today. For a complete list of her work, please visit www.whitegauntlet.com.au/noelstreatfeild/