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
A review of Hilda Fifteen
Mentioned in A Celebration of Women Writers.