Garrard, Phillis

About the author

Phillis Garrard (also known as Phillis Garrard Rowley) was a New Zealander. She is probably best known now for her Hilda series, about a co-educational school in New Zealand.  Hilda at School, the first of the series, was the earliest school story to be set in New Zealand, and it was followed up with three further Hilda books. They have maintained their popularity: all four books were printed as paperbacks in the 1980s. Andrea Watson, writing in the Otago Daily Times, said:  “each [book] emphasis[ed] the rural setting of Hilda’s life and the democratic nature of the New Zealand state schooling system of the time. Hilda’s determination to attend the local school instead of a girls’ boarding school reflects the mood of a country recovering from the Depression and about to elect a socialist government. Indeed, Hilda’s reason for objecting to the private school is that she is a ‘Labourite’.”

The Hilda books are fun:  there’s no tradition of “The School”, to which one must play up:  Hilda and her friends take fairly frequent days off, get corporal punishment, but have a deep respect for Mac, their teacher, who is the embodiment of “tough but fair.”  The books have a strong moral code: you tell the truth, are kind to your friends and animals and generally behave decently, but within that, the characters are allowed a lot more leeway than they would have been in a British school story of the same era. Although Hilda at School made it into a list of the Top 100 New Zealand Children’s Books of the 20th Century, the series was nowhere near as popular in Britain, perhaps because it was not set in the comfortably familiar British class system.  “The books,” Gilderdale said, in The Oxford History of New Zealand Literature in English, 1991,  “… are infused with the vitality of Hilda, a high-spirited, engaging character whose strong will is tempered by disarming honesty,” but Hilda is not tamed by The School:  it is everything around her that has an effect. Hilda would never have settled down and become a Jo of the Chalet School, unable to tear herself away even in adulthood, or an Oxenham Lady Bountiful heroine addicted to folk dancing.

Finding the books
Finding Nebby is hard to find in the UK as it had no UK publication, but it is very easy to find in the USA. Plum Duff and Prunella does turn up, but rarely with its dustjacket. Hilda at School is very easy to find; The Doings of Hilda, Hilda’s Adventures and Hilda, Fifteen a bit less so but not impossible. Finding her books is slightly complicated by Country Life, who when they published her Plum Duff and Prunella, anglicised “Phillis” to “Phyllis.”

Sources and links
Collecting Books and Magazines: an article on Clare Mallory, with a snippet on Phillis Garrard
review of Hilda Fifteen
Mentioned in A Celebration of Women Writers.


The Hilda Series
The Doings of Hilda
Hilda at School
Hilda, Fifteen
Hilda’s Adventures

Bibliography (pony books only)

Hilda at School – A New Zealand Story

Blackie,1929, 1940, 1950, illus Radcliffe Wilson
Hodder & Stoughton, Auckland, 1984
Republished as Hilda’s Adventures: adapted from Hilda at School
Blackie Graded Reader series, 1936
Nb: this is a completely different book from Hilda’s Adventures, 1938.

Don’t get too excited by the picture on the front: the pony content is minimal, but this is an excellent story. Hilda lives on a New Zealand sheep farm with her father and Lukey, who keeps house for them. Most of
the pupils at her school can only get there by riding but this is more of a school than a horse story. The school is not at all conventional though:  bunking off for the day is quite common, and both girls and boys
get the strap on their hand every now and then but they take it as part of life’s rich tapestry, and carry on.

The Doings of Hilda

Blackie, 1932, illus Radcliffe Wilson
Reprinted 1941, 1947

Hilda makes a series of resolutions on her thirteenth birthday, but they prove rather harder to keep than she had imagined, particularly when her year at school start a feud with the older children in the Secondary year.

Hilda’s Adventures

Blackie & Son Ltd, London, 1938, illus Radcliffe Wilson
Blackie, 1945, 1953
Hodder & Stoughton, Auckland, 1984

Hilda is in a furious temper: no one has caught Red for her, he is at the end of the paddock covered in mud, and she has to ride to school in her oilskins despite the blazing day. And Hilda has done nothing about the
maths test that morning. Then she gets mixed up with Lizzie Meakin, whose father has threatened to sell her horse, Peirrot.  Hilda and her friends manage to rescue Pierrot, and then Lizzie has to try and prove his worth at the local show.

Plum Duff and Prunella

Country Life, 1938, Illus M E Rivers-Moore

Running Away with Nebby

David McKay, Philadelphia, 1944, illus Willy Pogány

Dapple grey Nebby is Noel and Marigold’s pet, but his depradations in the carrot
patch mean they all run away, and have a series of adventures, including appearing in a film.

Hilda Fifteen

Blackie, 1944, illus D L Mays
Blackie, 1957

Hilda is now fifteen and in the Secondary School. No longer taught by Mac, they have the easy going Mr Hudson, but when Mac, the headmaster, is taken ill, Miss Bolton comes to help out, and she is a holy

New Zealand Schoolgirl:  an Ominibus of Hilda Stories

(contains Hilda at School, the Doings of Hilda, Hilda’s Adventures)

Blackie & Son Ltd, London, 1938, illus Radcliffe Wilson
Blackie, 1958