Cook’s Cook: Poetry Box talks to Gavin Bishop

GAVIN BISHOP 2018 .jpg

Gavin Bishop, Cook’s Cook: the cook who cooked for Captain Cook, Gecko Press, 2018



Gavin Bishop’s latest book Cook’s Cook: the cook who cooked for Captain Cook is a reading treasure trove.

Enter the book and you will go on a long sea-voyage of discovery – not from the view of the famous people on board but from the one-handed cook, John Thompson.

Cook’s Cook is a a bit like a cook book crossed with a history book crossed with a story book crossed with the most delightful picture book. There are fascinating facts, gorgeous drawings, little imaginings. Every page holds your interest. I definitely learnt new things.

Because the book was so sumptuous and filled me with such curiosity, I invited Gavin to join me in an slow-paced email conversation.

If I lived in the Wairarapa I would have gone to a Cook’s Cook event in August: you got to dine on a three-course meal inspired by the one-handed cook who fed Captain James Cook and crew aboard the HMS Endeavour. Wow!

Gavin, Tainui, Ngāti Awa, has published over 70 books and has been translated into 12 languages.



Screen Shot 2018-11-09 at 7.42.02 AM.png


Our conversation


Paula: I have lingered over Cook’s Cook for days because every page is full of little fascinations. What kind of research did you do for a book with such splendid detail?

Gavin: I read a lot of books about the voyage of the HMS Endeavour and Lieutenant James Cook. There are lot written about this expedition. Besides modern histories there are the logs and journals written by various people who travelled on the ship. And there are books written for adults as well as for children. The people at Captain Cook Memorial Museum in Whitby, England were very helpful when I emailed them with questions and so were the librarians at the Australian Maritime Museum.

It was while I was reading some material on a particularly useful web-site that I came across the name of John Thompson. He had only one hand and was the cook on the Endeavour, much to James Cook’s initial disgust when Thompson was appointed by the Admiralty. There is little known about him and he was barely mentioned in any of the ship’s records, even when he died of dysentery in Batavia. Joseph Banks, in his journal, complimented him on his cuttlefish soup but that is about it. From my point of view, this was a good thing. I could give him any sort of personality I wanted to.


Paula: I get goosebumps reading the old journals! Did anyone draw or paint food? In logs or journals or in their role as artist? Tupaia for example? I loved his watercolour and pencil drawings.

Gavin: I didn’t find any drawings specifically of food. I found a few scenes of life below deck in the galley or on the mess deck where, if food was included, it was incidental. I did read though, that the ships belonging to the British navy were stocked before each voyage with provisions supplied by the Victualling Board. The admiralty had its own farms, gardens, butchers and bakers that provided meat, bread (biscuits), grain and vegetables and fruit for their ships that were setting out from England in large numbers to explore the world during the 18th century.

The only drawing by Tupaia of food that I know of, is the famous one where he is offering a lobster to Joseph Banks. Tupaia wasn’t a great artist in the European naturalistic style, but his drawings give us some very interesting and important information. A lot of people on the board the Endeavour, but probably not the crew, produced drawings. It was the only way of making a visual record of the things and places they saw. James Cook, the captain, drew a lot too and when all the official artists died after their time in Batavia the scientific men in Bank’s team and some of the officers all had to their bit with pen and paper.


Paula: I spent a few months this year cooking with one hand and it is tricky! It is hard to imagine how John Thompson did this for a ship’s crew, but your book has brought life on board alive through both drawings and words. What was the most surprising thing you discovered (apart from a cook with one hand)?

Gavin: Well, as John Thompson said himself. “It only takes one hand to stir the porridge!” To be fair, he had help. A member of the crew from each table on the mess deck was rostered for a week to help with the mixing of the puddings and the serving of the food.

I came across many strange bits of information, things I had never heard of. A ‘fother’, the name of the patch made from a sail stuck down with a mixture of teased rope and animal dung was something new to me.

I also found it intriguing to read that George Dorlton, one of the two Jamaican servants and an ex-slave, part of the Joseph Banks party, was a qualified plant collector. He had previously worked for a botanist. It was suddenly obvious why Banks, the naturalist, had taken him along on the Endeavour.


Paula: Were you tempted by any of the recipes? The albatross recipe seemed gourmet with the prune sauce and ginger but so many things made my stomach curl. Like eating albatross or dog!

Gavin: If the texture and flavour was right I think I could eat most of things mentioned in ‘Cook’s Cook’. I’m sure a vegetarian dog would make a delicious stew, but I think albatross might be a bit salty and strong, rather like muttonbird. It would be an acquired taste.

I was interested to see that quite a lot of spices, pepper and ginger were used in the cooking on ships at the time of the Endeavour voyage. Of course as the food onboard aged, it would become very undesirable. Joseph Banks mentioned that the taste of weevils in the ship’s biscuits was very spicy. Others knocked their biscuits on the table to shake the weevils out. Some crew held the biscuit over a flame to encourage the weevils to leave.

The salted beef and pork would have been a culinary challenge though, especially after it had been in barrels for a couple of years. There is mention of it being towed behind the ship in a net in an attempt to soften it up and reduce the salt content.


Paula: What was the hardest thing doing this book and what was the most rewarding?

Gavin: The most difficult thing about this book was dealing with the huge amount of information that exists about the voyage of the Endeavour and the people on board. Deciding what to include and what to leave out was a constant challenge. It was rewarding though, when I realised I could deal with this problem by concentrating on the cook’s story and trying to see the historical events that took place, through his eyes.

In my book the voyage unfolds more or less as it did according to James Cook’s journals, all the dates and places are historically correct but the emphasis on certain details is skewed by what I thought might have been interesting or important to the cook, John Thompson. Of course that had a lot to do with food, and later, when the ship was sailing around Aotearoa, it was his hope for a little bit of glory. He wanted a river or a mountain named after him. And like his captain he failed to see the country was already named by the tangata whenua, the Maori. I have shown this in the illustrations where the faces of Ranginui and Papatuanuku are seen in the sky and in the land. Their presence was there for anyone who looked with a perceptive and intelligent eye.


Thanks Gavin!

Gecko Press page

Video of Gavin talking about his new book




Poetry Box November Challenge: celebrating Margaret Mahy with poems


The hat-instead-of-a-cat poem

If I wore a cat instead of a fluffy hat

I would sneeze and sniffle

but if I had a hat in the cat basket

it wouldn’t ask me for biscuits

with a terrifying catOwail

and a frightful tabbyhOwl

before the pink light of dawn.


Paula Green





Dear young poetry fans

This is the last poetry challenge for 2018.

I might do secret popUP challenges over summer with giveaway books and a quick turn around.

But to end the year I want to celebrate the MAGNIFICENT writing of Margaret Mahy – her books and her poems, her characters and her delicious imagination.

I was inspired to do this when St Francis School sent in poems based on Margaret’s A Summery Saturday Morning poem.



Margaret Mahy POEM challenge:


Write a poem that steps off from a Magaret Mahy

picture book



one of her titles

or character

or word she invented

or tricky situation she came up with

or first line of a poem


Your poem can be or do ANYTHING!

Get imaginations BUzzING

Use your EARS and listen out for MUSIC

You might do a very short poem!

PLAY with everything – especially how many words on a line

try RHYME play and hiding rhyme like salt and PEPPER

PLAY with how it LOOKS on the page/screen

you can illustrate your poem if you want





Send to:

Deadline: FRIDAY  30th November

Please include: your name, age, year and name of school

So I don’t miss it: Put MAHY poem in subject line

I will post SOME on:  Monday December 3rd






In the hammock: Gentle Giant Wētāpunga by Annemarie Florian and Terry Fitzgibbon


Screen Shot 2018-11-01 at 9.09.18 AM.png


Wētāpunga is a gorgeous book – you get facts, you get haiku-sized poems and you get extraordinary illustrations that are a cross between photos and paintings. The writing sings in your ear.

A wētāpunga is a giant wētā – the largest of all. I find this ancient insect absolutely fascinating. The Wētā Recovery Group (created by DOC) are doing everything they can to safeguard its survival. The future was grim for this creature but now they are cautiously positive.

Pick up this book – and go on a voyage of wētā discovery. It is like you are entering the forest at night to explore the life and history of these tree dwellers. It feels so real and illuminating.


Some of my favourite facts:

If they get scared they hide then freeze

They can’t fly but they can hear really well

They like to keep their antennae super clean


Annemarie writes for younger readers. She also wrote Kiwi: the real story, the first book in this series on threatened species. It won the children’s choice Non-fiction Award. in 2013.

Terry is an award-winning illustrator/ photographer who cares about nature.

Bravo New Holland – this book should be in every school library and on every child’s shelf. Book page here.






Poetry Box October challenge: some final tree poems



The deadline muddle is still a deadline muddle and I feel like writing a time muddle poem with an owl hooting in the day (sometimes they do) and the moon shining and a hedgehog prowling –  but instead I will post Tom’s poems because they are really inventive. I like the way they tell three different stories. And Daniel’s poem that is full of tree wonder.


It’s Christmas.
On Waiheke Island
the pohutukawa
dreams Santa will arrive,
pick her up
roots and all
and replant her in snow,
so she can shine
so bright, everyone
in the North Pole
can see, even Santa.

Ti Whanake
Pīwakawaka flutters around
Ti Whanake, telling him
the woodcutter wants
to make room
for an enormous fire
to sweep the forest floor.

Ti Whanake begs Pīwakawaka to take
his cabbage leaves
and build a giant fan
to put out the fire.

The woodcutter gets angry
and cannot see
to cut anything,
with all that smoke.

NZ Native Beech
In a storm
our native Beech tree
fell to the ground.

We wrapped her
in star-light.

We carried her
back to the forest
and buried her roots.

Tom N Age 10 Hoon Hay School/Te Kura Koaka


Amazing poem

When I see a tree, I wonder what I would be?

If they weren’t to be, no tūīs would sing the morning song,

and no pigeons would ring the lunch gong.

When I wake up in the morning, all the smells snore steam through the air

warm and nice.

If trees weren’t to be, we wouldn’t have oxygen.

Trees bring love to my heart and now trees play their part.


Daniel Year 3 Aged 7 St Francis, Pt Chevalier



October challenge: a few more tree poems



Oh dear I got my deadline date muddled for the tree poems because Sunday (today) is the 28th not Friday!


So I am delighted to post a few more TREE poems that arrived in the nick of time. Gemma played with poetry forms, Daniel played with humour and Michelle made a warm-glow poem.


A poem from Michelle Z, Y2, Ilam School


Yellow flowers upon this tree,

Flying around the sky.

Playing hide and seek,

all together.

Holding the golden flowers,

eating lunch together.

Finding sweet new friends,

Friends found by you,

best friends,

always there for you.

Kōwhai flowers.


Three poems from Gemma Y8, Adventure School


He rakau ātaahua koe

(You are a beautiful tree)


he rakau ātaahua koe Kōwhai

he rakau ātaahua koe Nīkau

he rakau ātaahua koe Rimu

he rakau ātaahua koe Tōtara

he rakau ātaahua koe Kauri

he rakau ātaahua koe

rakau ātaahua o nga atua




The golden kōwhai

In spring a tūī café

A treat for us all



Shall I compare thee to a tōtara tree?

You are as upstanding and as solid

And while parts of you may seem tough to me

My life without you would be just horrid


At times you help me reach up to the sky

Using your branches to find great new height

Yet you also shelter me when I cry

And offer me safety when I take fright


Like the tree, our bond took much time to grow

But our roots run deep giving strength to last

And while lofty heights mean I’m ready to go

I’m glad you saved me from growing too fast


So while I may roam, beyond what you see

You’ll always remain, my tōtara tree.



Three poems from Daniel Y5, Adventure School


I wonder…

I wonder how the first tree began?

Did some matter clump together, til suddenly…



Or was it a mutant

Plant from the sea

That somehow evolved to the might we now see?


Or did god use all his power

To create something great

Nature’s own tower?


I guess that we will never know

But still I am glad

That trees came to grow



If a tree could grow

In zero gravity

Its roots might stretch

In crazy directions

Like a dancing octopus

And in autumn

The leaves would float

Like a shower of confetti

That never stopped raining


Daniel L, Adventure School



The Beech Tree

I sit under the beech tree lying there doing nothing.
I hear the wind going through the leaves,
Making the most wonderful noise.
The birds whistling their lovely melodies.
Blossoms falling all over the place.
I ask myself “what would life be without trees?”

William F (11, Year 6), Ilam School, Christchurch

Poetry Box Challenge: some favourite October tree poems



Queen Charlotte track – the trees are magnificent!


I was really excited to post a tree poem challenge because I love trees and look at trees everyday. Thank you for all the tree poems – you made it  so hard picking.

I was especially delighted to get the poems from Royal Oak Primary School because they had gone outside to sit by trees to write their poems. Hunting for tree detail was an excellent plan.

I was also very moved by Ethan‘s memory of a tree (it is the last poem here).


This is always a poetry challenge not a competition – but I am sending Quentin a copy of my book The Letterbox cat. I loved the way his poem went full circle.

On November 1st I am posting my last challenge of the year!





He stands proud.

He stands tall.

He holds a shelter for the birds, bees and tiny insects.

His arms grow out, reaching out to greet the other trees.

His leaves dance gracefully to the ground in the gentle breeze.

He shelters all from the rain, the wind and the sun.

He stands proud.

He stands tall.

By Quentin – Year 6,  Royal Oak Primary School


Cabbage Tree

Pointy, spiky. Poking my arm
Big green pom-poms
like bright fireworks in the air
sprouting up from the ground,
pointy spikes all around.

Penelope S  Age 8 Year 4 Selwyn School

pohutukawa tree

look at me I make you happy when you see me.
my trunk is huge and green green  grass lies under me.
my silk flowers are as bright as can be.
look at me, look at me, look at me.

Jacob Age: 10  Year 5,  Fendalton Primary


Pohutukawa Tree

Pohutukawa tree,

the favorite tree for me.


Blooming Christmas red,

warming my covers for me in bed.


Kingfisher’s favorite

their flower kit.


So go sit under a pohutukawa tree,

and look at the red brushes making you the happiest you can be!


Jasmine R Age 7 St Francis, Pt Chevalier




I remember the day
I bought you
you were small
and weak
you had no leaves or flowers
I slowly ripped the plastic
from your roots
and popped you in a pot
Now you are strong
with leave and flowers
you have survived
all 4 seasons
I am proud of you

By Thea, age 9, Ilam School


My Tree

The trunk is as rough as sandpaper on my hand.

As dry as an African desert.

The sawn off branches look like arms ready to tackle you to the ground.

The branches tangle together like noodles.

The tiny leaves are as green as a rich lady’s purse.

Reaching for the dense leaves creating alien shadows.

The dried our leaves brown and rusty.

Bruce – Year 4 Royal Oak Primary School


I Am the Oldest

My skin is rough and torn.

My leaves cascade down to the ground and glimmer in the dappled light.

My giant branches reach out like hands

Many elaborate animals find themselves building homes in my safe arms.

My dagger like leaves are for my protection

My sturdy trunk houses millions of roots that snake throughout the undergrowth.

I am the oldest tree.

Paige – Year 6 Royal Oak Primary School


Still Growing

Trees expand their little skinny hands with a greedy group of leaves.

The buds of the impatient flower are ready to explode into a mountain of colour.

The old leaves sadly sway down as the strong solid tree is singing “Let it go.”

I am one with the tree.

Tika – Year 5 Royal Oak Primary School



In the morning
when the sun is rising,
the rimu tree
sways in the wind
like it is fighting.
In the day the cat
sleeps peacefully
under the rimu tree
And the sparrow chicks wait
for food in the rimu tree branches.
When the sun goes down
the cat walks down the road
back home. The sparrows sleep
safely in their nest.

Tilly O  Age: 9  Year 5 Selwyn House

The Old Blossom Tree

There’s a kowhai tree,
In the centre of my garden.
Its flowers are always the prettiest,
Dew drops cling to the curvy bark,
Sunlight dances on the clear, yellow bell petals.
A young lizard delicately crawls up its lovely trunk.

Paige L  8 years old Fendalton Open Air Primary School


The kowhai tree in summer

Winter had crushed the colour out of
the flowers and trees.
In the next few weeks came summer.
Beautiful colours sprang.
There was not one tree or bush without a bloom
But over the golden horizon one tree stood out
and it belonged to New Zealand.
It was the vibrant yellow kowhai tree.

By Alice, 9 years old. Year 4 Selwyn House School


The cabbage tree

Sharp and pointy.
More leaves falling down.
Sparrows flying above on a sparkling day.
Collecting and building making a nest.
Hoping no one will hurt their nest.
Then at night they come to rest.
Alice G, age 9, Year 4, Selwyn House School



The New Zealand Christmas tree
hangs over the golden sand,
like people looking into a tank.
With its bright red flowers,
soft green leaves,
and it’s extraordinary size,
this tree is is the best for climbing.
From there you can see the horizon,
along the sea.

Xanthe W age 10, Year 5, Selwyn House


Bamboo rap song

Bamboo is green. Bamboo is smooth. Bamboo is cool. It’s gonna rule.

Bamboo is thick. Bamboo is slick. Bamboo can be chopped into tiny bits.

Bamboo is strong,stronger than anyone.

Bamboo is fun.

when it’s in the sun.

George Age 9, St Francis Pt Chevalier



The gift of pohutukawa tree

Red flowers spreading on the tree
like mould on an old tomato.
The heavenly flowers are the natural perfume of the earth.
The gift of joy they bring to everyone.
Is the gift of the pohutukawa tree.

Rebecca H Age: 10  Selwyn House



The kowhai tree

The kowhai tree
outside my window
sways and shivers.
It twinkles in the moonlight,
humming in the gentle breeze.
Whispers “it’s a glorious sight”.
What would your tree say?

Charlotte K, Ilam School, age 7, year 2


The pohutukawa’s life

Standing strong and old
in its little known forest
ready to have a peaceful death.
Awaiting for the right moment.
As he sees the big machines
he closes his eyes and waits.
Then he opens his eyes
and can see his brothers
dead on the ground.
The cutting pain in his side is finally over.
He topples over,
holding onto his last shred of life.
He and his dead relatives
are thrown onto a truck
and are taken to be carved.
The last one of them all
is the old pohutukawa.
The man on his rocking chair
does not know
that his chair was once the tree
that he climbed when he was little,
The old pohutukawa.

Laura M  Age:11  Selwyn House




My first memory was under a pohutukawa tree. Its red flowers, as red
as a ruby, were glittering and shining in the morning sun. I was going
for a stroll in the park as it was the first day of spring. The first
flowers were blooming and all the plants were like a tornado of

But my favorite tree of all was the native pohutukawa. I
liked the way the flowers looked among the shiny green leaves. It
really worried me that some people were cutting these trees
thoughtlessly down. If this went on, there would be none left; so my
family and I planted some seedlings that spring. And that was my first

Ethan, Year 4, Fendalton School





A poem and drawing from Toitoi: and an invitation to submit new work



Screen Shot 2018-10-24 at 1.24.37 PM.png



I have been reading my way through the gorgeous new issue of Toitoi – a magazine that publishes writing and illustrations by children aged 13 and under.

Charlotte kindly gave me permission to publish this terrific poem by Lani (5) and equally terrific drawing by Lucy (9). The poetry is all so good – but so is everything else.  See if you can find a copy for your self and get inspired!

It is now time to send in more submissions so check out the details below.



Submit to Toitoi

Toitoi celebrates the ideas, imaginations and creative spirit of our young writers and artists. We publish material with an original and authentic voice that other young people can connect to and be inspired by and that reflects the cultures and experiences of life in New Zealand.

If you are a young New Zealand writer or artist and you are 5-13 years old, we would love to hear from you.

All submissions must be your own original work and be previously unpublished. If you would like to illustrate a story or poem, please photograph or scan two examples of your very best work and send them to us. You are welcome to submit your writing and art together and to make multiple submissions.

All submissions should be emailed to with your contact details.

For submission guidelines see here


Deadline: November 30th