Christmas Eve 1995 marked Noel Streatfeild’s centenary. This miserable birth date, overshadowed by Christmas, caused her endless annoyance, but she always was a rebel, kicking against such apparent handicaps as a devout Vicarage home, markedly attractive sisters, and handed-down clothes. At 14, she was expelled from school. Yet while she was suffering, she was storing impressions too, in what she called her blotting paper memory.
So when, after 10 years as an actress, she began to write, she easily thought herself back into the skins of both problematic children like herself, and the sparky, successful children she’d longed to be. The books were daydreams come true, and Ballet Shoes, her first (1936), caused a sensation. Theatre and ballet were still undiscovered fields in children’s literature; children with professional careers, unheard of. Noel built her reputation on lively tales of children striving for the top in dancing, acting, tennis, skating… the children she wished she’d been. Her best characters are cocky, argumentative, and egotistical. They are Noel!
Family relationships formed another theme. Despite her stressful childhood, she filled her books with attractive families, their cosy nannies, their indomitable Cockney maids. Written in an easy, flowing style, Noel’s 37 children’s stories present life as warm, colourful and dramatic. She campaigned for quality in children’s books. She sparkled at Puffin Club parties. She adored celebrity status. Finally, she was awarded an OBE. She died in 1986, but her books live on.