Everyday happenings can sometimes be the beginning of extraordinary stories, children's author Betty Gilderdale says.

Mrs Gilderdale, well-known as the creator of The Little Yellow Digger series, has been made a member of the NZ Order of Merit in this year's Queen's Birthday Honours, for services to children's literature.

Born and bred in London, Mrs Gilderdale, now living on the North Shore, studied English at the University of London. She graduated in 1949 with honours.

Before moving to New Zealand, in the late 1960s, she helped give lessons to a group of young people who had failed their secondary school and university entrance exams.


"They were all so smart and I couldn't understand why they had failed. Then we found that nobody had ever read to them and nobody had got them to read when they were younger.

"From then, I made sure to read to my sons and to make sure they always read."

When the family arrived in New Zealand, Mrs Gilderdale's interest in literature - particularly children's literature - continued to grow.

She became a founding member of the Children's Literature Association and is a past president. For 25 years she was a reviewer of children's books for the Herald and published A Sea Change: 145 Years of New Zealand Junior Fiction, a study she researched over six years.

Mrs Gilderdale also contributed to the Oxford History of NZ Literature, lectured at various education facilities and published the biographies The Seven Lives of Lady Barker and Introducing Margaret Mahy.

In the early 90s she wrote the first book in what would become a hugely popular New Zealand series for the next 20 years, The Little Yellow Digger.

She said she had never planned on writing a children's picture book and got the idea after babysitting her two grandsons, now in their 20s.

"A digger was working outside and it got stuck. So they brought a big digger but the bigger digger got stuck. I said that to one of the boys and he loved it. On the way back home, in the car, I started thinking more about an idea for a story.


"It was really born out of reality - that can be the best start of a good children's story."

Mrs Gilderdale's late husband, Alan, illustrated the series.

She paid tribute to him and acknowledged that her appointment as a member of the Order would not have been possible had it not been for the support of her family.

"He wasn't really keen to draw the pictures in the first place," she laughed. "But in the end he did, and they really made the books."

Betty Gilderdale - Member of the New Zealand Order of Merit for services to children's literature.