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Mary Norton (writer)

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Mary Norton
Mary Norton
Mary Norton
BornKathleen Mary Pearson
(1903-12-10)10 December 1903
London, England, UK
Died29 August 1992(1992-08-29) (aged 88)
Bideford, Devon, England, UK
GenreChildren's fantasy novels
Notable works
Notable awardsCarnegie Medal

Kathleen Mary Norton (née Pearson; 10 December 1903 – 29 August 1992), known professionally as Mary Norton, was an English writer of children's books.[1] She is best known for The Borrowers series of low fantasy novels (1952 to 1982), which is named after its first book and, in turn, the tiny people who live secretly in the midst of contemporary human civilisation.

Norton won the 1952 Carnegie Medal from the Library Association, recognising The Borrowers as the year's outstanding children's book by a British author.[2] For the 70th anniversary of the Medal in 2007 it was named one of the top ten winning works, selected by a panel to compose the ballot for a public election of the all-time favourite.[3][a] Norton's novels The Magic Bed Knob; or, How to Become a Witch in Ten Easy Lessons and Bonfires and Broomsticks were adapted into the 1971 Disney film Bedknobs and Broomsticks.


'The Cedars', Norton's home until 1921 and reportedly the setting of The Borrowers

Kathleen Mary Pearson was the daughter of a physician and grew up in a Georgian house at the end of the High Street in Leighton Buzzard. The house now forms part of Leighton Middle School, known within the school as The Old House, and was reportedly the setting of her novel The Borrowers. She married Robert Charles Norton on 4 September 1926 and had four children, two boys and two girls; her son, also named Robert Norton, became a printer and Microsoft executive.[4][5] Her second husband was Lionel Bonsey, whom she married in 1970.[1]

She began working for the War Office in 1940 before the family moved temporarily to the United States. She began writing while working for the British Purchasing Commission in New York City during the Second World War. Her first book was The Magic Bed Knob; or, How to Become a Witch in Ten Easy Lessons, published by J. M. Dent in 1945.[6] Its sequel Bonfires and Broomsticks followed two years later and they were re-issued jointly as Bed-Knob and Broomstick in 1957. The stories became the basis for the 1971 Disney film Bedknobs and Broomsticks.

During her latter years Norton lived with her husband in the village of Hartland in Devon. She died of a stroke in Bideford, Devon, England, on 29 August 1992.


"Borrowers' Cottage" in Hartland, North Devon, where Norton spent her final years living with her second husband, Lionel Bonsey

The first edition hardcover books were published in Britain by J. M. Dent.[6] A picture book version of her first story appeared in the US as The Magic Bed-Knob (1943), with color illustrations by Waldo Peirce.[citation needed]

The omnibus edition Bedknob and Broomstick (Dent, 1957) included new illustrations by Erik Blegvad; following the 1971 Disney film adaptation, the plural Bedknobs and Broomsticks was also used in print.

In the UK the first four Borrowers novels were illustrated by Diana Stanley and The Borrowers Avenged was illustrated by Pauline Baynes. In the U.S. all five novels were illustrated by Joe and Beth Krush. They have also been illustrated by Ilon Wikland.

  • The Bread and Butter Stories (1998) - collection of short stories for adults, written for magazines

Film, TV and theatrical adaptations[edit]

Mary Norton's final resting place in the graveyard of St. Nectan's Church, the parish church of Hartland, Devon. The inscription on the headstone reads:
"Do not stand at my grave and weep,
I am not there. I do not sleep.
I am a thousand winds that blow.
I am the diamond glints on snow.
I am the sunlight on ripened grain.
I am the gentle autumnal rain.
Do not stand at my grave and cry;
I am not there. I did not die".
(Extract from a poem by Claire Harner.)

Norton's novels The Magic Bedknob; or, How to Become a Witch in Ten Easy Lessons and Bonfires and Broomsticks were adapted into the 1971 Disney film Bedknobs and Broomsticks, starring Angela Lansbury and David Tomlinson.

There have been several screen adaptations of The Borrowers:

There have also been numerous theatrical adaptations of The Borrowers.[9][10]


  1. ^ a b Today there are usually eight books on the Carnegie shortlist. The Borrowers Afloat, third in the series, was one of five "Commended" runners-up for the 1959 Medal. The distinction was used about 160 times from 1954 to 2002, counting both commendation and high commendation in later years.[11]


  1. ^ a b "Mary Norton." St. James Guide to Children's Writers, 5th ed. St. James Press, 1999.
  2. ^ a b (Carnegie Winner 1952) Archived 17 April 2012 at the Wayback Machine. Living Archive: Celebrating the Carnegie and Greenaway Winners. CILIP. Retrieved 2012-07-10.
  3. ^ "70 Years Celebration: Anniversary Top Tens" Archived 27 October 2016 at the Wayback Machine. The CILIP Carnegie & Kate Greenaway Children's Book Awards. CILIP. Retrieved 2012-07-10.
  4. ^ Barker, Nicolas (30 March 2001). "Robert Norton - obituary". The Independent. Archived from the original on 23 June 2001. Retrieved 11 May 2016.{{cite web}}: CS1 maint: unfit URL (link)
  5. ^ Berry, John (20 April 2001). "The Mischievous Mind behind Microsoft's TrueType Fonts". Creative Pro. Retrieved 11 May 2016.
  6. ^ a b c "Mary Norton Bibliography: A Collectors Reference Guide: UK First Edition Books". Bookseller World. Retrieved 2012-07-10.
  7. ^ "Are all the giants dead?" (first US edition). WorldCat. Retrieved 2013-07-03.
  8. ^ Poor Stainless (collection) publication contents at the Internet Speculative Fiction Database. Retrieved 2012-07-10.
  9. ^ Anne Hopper (3 December 2007). "The Borrowers". TheStage.co.uk. Retrieved 22 August 2011.
  10. ^ Kelly Rowles (5 November 2010). "Philly's Arden Theatre Brings The Borrowers to the Stage this December!". CultureMob. Archived from the original on 25 November 2011. Retrieved 22 August 2011.
  11. ^ "Carnegie Medal Award". 2007(?). Curriculum Lab. Elihu Burritt Library. Central Connecticut State University. Retrieved 2012-07-10.

External links[edit]