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Gavin Bishop image

Gavin Bishop at a book signing.

Children’s picture book writer and illustrator Gavin Bishop (Ngāti Mahuta, Tainui and Ngāti Pūkeko, Ngāti Awa) ONZM, is speaking in Dunedin on World Book Day, 7 March 2024.

Tōku Whenua – New Zealand Stories for New Zealand Children is a public event hosted by the University of Otago Centre for the Book - He Rau Kupu.

Bishop’s books are an indelible part of Kiwi kids’ early literature experiences. He has authored and illustrated 80 books, that range from original stories to retelling of Māori myths, European fairy stories and nursery rhymes.

“The challenge of exploring the landscapes, the histories and stories of the people of Aotearoa has become a major part of nearly every book I have written,” Bishop says.

He has won Best NZ Children's Book of the Year five times, Best Illustrated Children's Book of the Year five times and Best Non-Fiction Children's Book of the Year three times. In 2018, he was awarded the Te Tohu a Ta Kingi Ihaka for a lifetime contribution to Māori art and culture and in 2019 the Prime Minister’s Award for literacy achievement. He has recently been nominated for the 2024 Hans Christian Andersen Award, the highest award for children's literature in the world.

Bishop’s talk for World Book Day will include his early career, which reflects Aotearoa’s cultural history.

"In 1978, I was visiting a high school in Dunedin as an Art Advisor when ‘out of the blue’ a teacher told me she had heard that Oxford University Press in Wellington were hoping to start publishing some children’s books with a distinctive New Zealand flavour,” Bishop recalls.

“Until that time, most of our children’s books came from England, North America, or Australia. Very few were written and illustrated here. I was very excited by this idea and that night I started writing my first book, a story about New Zealand aimed at New Zealand children. I made a sheep my main character and called her Bidibidi.”

Gavin Bishop illustrations collage image

Clockwise from top left, an illustration from 'Atua', 'Mihi' - a simple book to share with babies and talk about their whanau and place in the world, and an illustration from 'The House that Jack Built'.

There is a plethora of familiar peoples and places throughout his work, and they are often based on Bishop’s personal experiences.

Mrs McGinty and the Bizarre Plant is the story of a lonely woman living in the suburb of Linwood in Christchurch where I live. Piano Rock looks at my life as a small child in a railway town on the southern shores of Lake Wakatipu in the South Island. Katarina tells of the hardships my great aunt experienced when she travelled from the Waikato to live in Southland in the 1860s. Even my retellings of European fairy stories such as Chicken Licken and The Three Little Pigs are set in the foothills of Canterbury during a particularly hot and dry summer.”

In his talk, Bishop will also be exploring the themes in more recent works that look at “Tōku whenua, my land, its history and its people”.

These recent works include several large format non-fiction books he’s produced with Penguin Publishers such as Aotearoa, Wildlife, Atua and Patu and a series of small babies’ board books in te reo Māori and English, with Gecko Press.

The talk is aimed at adults, and older children may also enjoy it. Gavin Bishop is also very pleased to sign books.

A public talk in celebration of World Book Day

Children’s picture book writer and illustrator Gavin Bishop

Tōku whenua: New Zealand stories for New Zealand children

5:30-6:30pm, Thursday, 7 March 2024

Archway 1 Lecture Theatre, 290 Leith Walk, University of Otago campus, Dunedin

Free event, all welcome.

Livestream the World Book Day Lecture.

Event listing

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