Norton, whose father was a physician, grew up in Leighton Buzzard, a small town in Bedfordshire, England, about 50 miles northwest of London. The family lived in a house called The Cedars, which is said to be the original setting for The Borrowers. She graduated from a convent school in London and studied to be an actress at the Old Vic Shakespeare Company. During World War II, she worked for the British Purchasing Commission in the United States. Her first book was published while she lived in New York.
After the war, she returned to London and wrote a sequel, Bonfires and Broomsticks (1947). The two stories told of three children and their adventures with an amateur witch. They were published as a single volume, Bed-Knob and Broomstick in 1957. The 1971 Disney movie Bedknobs and Broomsticks starred Angela Lansbury, David Tomlinson, and Roddy McDowall.
Now a children's classic, The Borrowers told the story of Pod and Homily Clock and their adventurous teenaged daughter, Arrietty. The Clocks are a race of tiny people, no bigger than six inches tall, who survive by "borrowing" items from the "human beans" (big people) who also live in the house. It is a perilous existence with the Borrowers constantly in danger of being discovered. After the Clock family is chased out of their home, their adventures continue in four sequels, including, The Borrowers Afield (1955), The Borrowers Afloat (1959), The Borrowers Aloft (1961), and The Borrowers Avenged (1982).
The Borrowers was adapted as a Hallmark Hall of Fame TV movie in 1971 and a film starring Tom Fenton, John Goodman, and Jim Broadbent in 1997, as well as several BBC productions. Norton received the Carnegie Medal, a British award for outstanding literature, in 1952. She has been compared with such creative writers as Lewis Carroll, J.R.R. Tolkien, and C.S. Lewis.