Skip to content
Gilderdale, Betty
Writer's File

Betty Gilderdale

Gilderdale, Betty
In brief
Betty Gilderdale was a scholar, educator, and an expert on New Zealand children’s literature. She worked as a lecturer, and her pioneering study, A Sea Change: 145 Years of New Zealand Junior Fiction (1982), won the PEN Award for Best First Book of Prose. She wrote numerous research papers, reviews of children’s books, as well as entries in reference publications. She is the author of the hugely popular Little Yellow Digger series. Gilderdale’s major biography, The Seven Lives of Lady Barker, was published in 1996. The Storylines Betty Gilderdale Award for services to children's literature is named in her honour.


Gilderdale, Betty (1923 - 2021) was born in London. She graduated with a B.A. (Hons) in English from the University of London in 1949 and moved to New Zealand in 1967.

Gilderdale was a lecturer at North Shore Teachers’ College from 1969-1981 and then at the Auckland College of Education from 1981-1985. She worked as a Lecturer in the Department of Continuing Education at the University of Auckland.

Gilderdale was a ground-breaking scholar of New Zealand children’s literature. Her pioneering study, A Sea Change: 145 Years of New Zealand Junior Fiction (1982), won the PEN Award for best first book of prose, and her chapter in the Oxford History of New Zealand Literature in English is highly regarded. She also wrote extensively on New Zealand children’s authors for such major international reference sources as the Routledge Encyclopaedia of Post-Colonial Literatures (1994), the St James’ Press Twentieth Century Children’s Writers (1995), and Oxford University Press’s Children’s Literature: An Illustrated History (1995).

The author of many research papers and a regular reviewer of children’s books and a columnist for the New Zealand Herald from 1973 to 1998, she also wrote introductions to children’s texts and was a writer for children (including the award-winning Introducing Margaret Mahy, 1987) and, with Alan Gilderdale, The Little Yellow Digger (1992); she compiled Under the Rainbow: A Treasury of New Zealand Stories (1990); and translated and wrote an opera libretto, Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, for composer John Rimmer. In 1991, Gilderdale published Introducing 21 New Zealand Children's Writers.

In 1994, Gilderdale received the prestigious Margaret Mahy Medal and Lecture Award, given annually by the New Zealand Children's Book Foundation. Now called The Storylines Betty Gilderdale Award, this prize recognises significant and distinguished contribution to children's literature.

Her major biography, The Seven Lives of Lady Barker, was published in 1996.

Gilderdale was a past president and life member of the Children’s Literature Association of New Zealand, and was founder and past president of the Children’s Media Watch group.

In 2000, she donated her extensive collection of New Zealand children’s books as a research collection to the University of Auckland Library.

In 2003, Betty and Alan Gilderdale received the Gaelyn Gordon Award for a Much-Loved Book for The Little Yellow Digger.

Gilderdale is also the author of The Little Digger and the Bones (Scholastic, 2009), illustrated by her husband Alan, and part of the series which includes The Little Yellow Digger at the Zoo (Scholastic, 1999), The Little Yellow Digger Saves the Whale (Scholastic, 2001) and The Little Yellow Digger Goes to School (Scholastic, 2005).

Her autobiography, My Life in Two Halves, was published by David Bateman in 2012. The engaging memoir details her rich life of diverse experiences and the people she met along the way.

The original Little Yellow Digger picture book is one of New Zealand's all-time bestselling children's picture books with over 500,000 copies in print.

The Gilderdales' son Peter has since taken up the mantle of writing new books in the series.

Gilderdale passed away in July 2021, just days before her 98th birthday.