Mary Norton: Biography & Books

Instructor: Kaitlin Oglesby

Kaitlin has a BA in political science and experience teaching.

This lesson is about the author of the Borrowers series, Mary Norton, detailing her life and her writing. Read the lesson, then test yourself with the quiz!


Do you remember ever losing something when you were a child? Maybe a favorite toy or a game piece? No matter where you looked, it was missing, and sometimes it never turned up. If this happened to you, then you would have felt justified reading The Borrowers series as a kid. The set of five books detailed the lives of the Clocks, a family of miniature proportions who 'borrowed' items like food from the 'human beans' in whose home they lived. These stories were the product of the imagination of Mary Norton, a British writer who told these same stories to her children. The series has proved wildly popular, and has even been made into film and television adaptations.


Mary Norton was born in London in 1903 as Kathleen Mary Pearson. Her father was a doctor, and she lived in a large manor house in Leighton Buzzard growing up. She attended a convent school and had an active imagination, an attribute she carried into adulthood. After marrying Robert Norton in 1927, she moved with him to Portugal, and then came back to Great Britain. The couple had two boys, Guy and Robert, and two girls, Ann-Mary and Caroline.

During World War II, Norton worked for the War Office in Great Britain. Her husband joined the Royal Navy, and the rest of the family was sent temporarily to New York, where Norton worked for the British Purchasing Commission. While they were living in the United States, she wrote down stories that she told her children, and her writing career was born.

Norton published her first book in 1943, and she wrote children's fiction for the next fifty years. She divorced her first husband and married Lionel Bonsey in 1970, and was married to him until his death. Norton passed away in 1992 of a stroke.

The Cover of The Borrowers, published in 1952
The Borrowers Cover


Mary Norton published her first book, The Magic Bed-Knob, in 1943. This was later combined with her second book, Bonfires and Broomsticks, published in 1945, to become Bed-Knobs and Broomsticks. These books detailed the adventures of three children who are sent to the English countryside to escape World War II, and find themselves with a witch that leads them into fun and mischief.

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