Gavin Bishop: Aotearoa – WORD Christchurch Festival 2018

I first knew Gavin Bishop not as a children’s author and illustrator, but as one of the art teachers at my high school. Although he’s been writing children’s books for years, it wasn’t until my son was a toddler that I started to take notice of his books. The first one that made me sit up and pay attention was The House that Jack Built which so beautifully blends together that traditional tale with the Kiwi setting. But it wasn’t till I read Diana Noonan’s Quaky Cat, post-earthquake, when Gavin Bishop’s hauntingly beautiful illustrations of my ruined city – of the Cathedral, which had still been standing when the book was written, but now was hardly more than a pile of rubble – brought tears to my eyes, and I added his works to my “favourites” list.

Gavin Bishop Aotearoa. Image supplied.
Gavin Bishop Aotearoa. Image supplied.

So it was very exciting to have the chance to listen to him talking about his latest books, Aotearoa: the Story of New Zealand, Margaret Mahy Book of the Year (and winner of the Elsie Locke Award for Non-Fiction) and the soon to be released Cook’s Cook: The Cook Who Cooked for Captain Cook.

It was amazing to get a glimpse of the way that Aotearoa was created (the book, that is). He told us how his publisher suggested the idea to him, of a great big picture book about the history of New Zealand, covering 65 million years in 64 pages, and how excited he was to work on it, wishing he’d come up with the idea himself. And then of the 2am moment of panic, when he realised that this book was four times bigger (in size alone, not to mention the scope of it) than a normal picture book, and he had only a year to do it in

I really enjoyed seeing the carefully detailed planning pages, with the art work and text carefully drawn in, and then the finished paintings, so beautiful and oddly empty without their accompanying text. Despite all that care, there were times when he didn’t leave quite enough room for the text, but thanks to the wonders of Photoshop, the designer was able to nudge bits of artwork over to make room. Bishop and the designer had quite the debate over the cover artwork. He created at least eight different versions of the art work, and had wanted to include a rainbow, but the designer didn’t agree.

Bishop spent many hours researching for this book (hardly surprising, 65 million years is a lot to cover!) and out of that research emerged another story, which became Cook’s Cook. We’ve all heard of Captain Cook, of course, but I’d never given any thought to the practicalities of the voyage. Did you know that there were 94 men aboard the Endeavour, a ship built for just 16! And of course all those men had to be fed. It was a one-handed Scottish cook, by the name of John Thompson who cooked and fed them all, on Pease Porridge and all manner of curious meats. I can’t wait for this book to arrive at the library, so I can read it!! It’s in the catalogue already, though, so you can go ahead and place a hold on it (you’ll be right after me in the queue!)

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