Poetry Box review: Gavin Bishop’s glorious Wildlife of Aotearoa



Wildlife of Aotearoa Gavin Bishop, Puffin (Penguin Random House) 2019


Gavin Bishop, Tainui, Ngāti Awa, is an award-winning children’s author and illustrator with over 60  books to his name. His honours and awards include the Storylines Margaret Mahy Medal for services to New Zealand children’s literature and the Te Waka Toi Ngā Tohu ā Tā Kingi Ihaka/Sir Kingi Ihaka Award for services to Māori Art and Culture. The Storylines Gavin Bishop Award for Illustration was established in 2009 and in 2013 he was made an Officer of the New Zealand Order of Merit.

In 2019 Gavin was awarded the Prime Minister’s Award for Literary Achievement in Non-fiction.


Last year, Gavin’s sumptuous and significant Aotearoa: The New Zealand Story won the supreme Margaret Mahy Book of the Year Award and the Elsie Locke Award for non-fiction. Wildlife of Aotearoa is a companion to this book, and it is equally sumptuous and equally significant.

Under their Puffin imprint, Penguin Random House has produced a large hardback book with the look and feel of a book-treasure, a taonga.


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First up are the heavenly illustrations – I make my way through the story they tell in wash and ink. Animated gulls, whales, penguins lead to moa, kea and kiwi; you will find red deer, border collies, domestic cats and cows. Each creature appears with a fascinating fact and where possible the name in te reo. Significant!

I especially love the whale page. The blue whale pakake nui is the largest animal that has ever lived and can grow up to 33 metres long. Try measuring that out!


Each page is like an extremely powerful magnet that holds your eyes because you can’t stop looking and reading. I love the colour-washed backgrounds that might be ocean depths or night sky or forest shades. I love the textures, the movement and the expressions of all the animals. I love the sentences so perfectly crafted.

I also love the way wildlife is everywhere – Gavin shows us wildlife in oceans, rivers, the bush and the sky but he also shows us wildlife in cities. There is one page devoted to the wildlife in a house. Fascinating!


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Another page shows a catalogue of 25 animals that became well known: for example Shrek the sheep, Janie the chimpanzee, Woofwoof the tūī. Extremely fascinating!


Making a book is always a journey for the maker, a thing of discovery – Gavin has structured the book so it is a journey of discovery for the reader. Yes it is a catalogue of our wildlife beginning in the ocean, ‘Tangaroa’s water world’, and moving through land and sky. You will find yourself in a museum looking at old bones, or peeking into the pitch of night or the sweet pink of dawn. You never know what the next page will bring.

Gavin shows us the native animals and the new settlers. I love the way the book makes me think hard about things. The landscape and the wildlife of Aotearoa has changed drastically since the arrival of the colonists:


With European settlement, land changes that were started by early Māori happened much more quickly, and 80 per cent of Aotearoa’s original bush has since been cleared. Many colonists worked hard to transform the “strange” landscape as quickly as possible by introducing foreign plants and animals to make it look more like “home”. A new and hungry breed of wildlife was released, or escaped, into the countryside. Humans, rats, cats, stoats, and possums killed off about 45 per cent of the native bird species of Aotearoa.

We are at a wildlife crisis point in Aotearoa so this sumptuous utterly gorgeous book is necessary reading. You will find animals that are thriving, endangered animals and animals no longer with us. And that makes me both sad and glad.

You will find tricky questions that people are fighting hard to solve. We can’t swim or fish in many of our waterways because more than half are polluted. Farmers work hard to make a living and feed people who eat meat but some farms may not survive as we try and deal with climate change. There is a growing movement of young people wanting to save the planet. Laws will be passed, we will be educated on what we can do to help protect our wildlife, our waterways, our bush and our skies. People have worked hard to create predator-free sanctuaries for birds and sealife under threat.

A book like this brings our wildlife so much closer into view and that matters. This is a book to share and talk about. This is a book to leap and think and write and draw from.

Gavin has worked hard on this stunning book and his mahi and aroha shows. It is a labour of love that comes out of a love of drawing and writing, and a love of Aotearoa. This book deserves a place on a bookshelf in every school library and every home.


To celebrate I have designed my final poetry challenge of the year, November’s challenge around this book.


Penguin Random House author page


1 thought on “Poetry Box review: Gavin Bishop’s glorious Wildlife of Aotearoa

  1. Pingback: Poetry Box November challenge: Wildlife in Aotearoa poems | Poetry Box

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