Tag Archives: Donovan Bixley

Win Little Red Riding Hood (Not Quite) by Yvonne Morrison and Donovan Bixley

My Best Friends Are Books is part of the blog tour to celebrate the Children’s Choice Award in the 2015 New Zealand Book Awards for Children and Young Adults.  Tomorrow I’m hosting interviews with Yvonne Morrison and Donovan Bixley here on the blog and you can read my review of their wonderful book, Little Red Riding Hood (Not Quite).

Thanks to everyone who entered the competition.  The winner is Chris.



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2015 New Zealand Book Awards for Children and Young Adults: Interview with Donovan Bixley

Donovan Bixley’s book Little Red Riding Hood … Not Quite, written by Yvonne Morrison, has been voted for by kids all over New Zealand as a finalist in the Children’s Choice Picture Book  category. Little Red is also on the judge’s finalist list. Donovan and Yvonne collaborated last year, on the Children’s Choice award-winning The Three Bears (Sort Of), and here is the interview that Booksellers NZ had with him last year. https://booksellersnz.wordpress.com/2014/05/22/finalist-interview-the-illustration-of-the-three-bears-sort-of-by-donovan-bixley/

This is just one of three titles that Donovan has had recognised in the 2015 Book Awards for Children and Young Adults, and two of these – this and Dragon Knight: Fire! are also in the children’s choice category. For that reason, this interview covered both books.

  •  What was your approach to illustrating Little Red Riding Hood…Not Quite – was it any easier than with The Three Bears?

Three Bears was a real head spinner, simply trying to figure out how on earth to illustrate the manuscript. I worried that it was all going to be a big mess of different styles and not hold together visually. Well, with last year’s award, obviously it seemed to have worked – so Red Riding Hood was much easier in that regard. However, it’s a tricky business doing a sequel. I figure a sequel should be more of the same, but different. So that’s what I tried to do.

  • What are the challenges and advantages of working on illustrations for authors who you have worked with prior?

I can usually see the finished book clearly in my head, and I forget that others aren’t telepathic. One of the best things about working with authors again and again is that I can just do a messy scribble, and they know what I mean because they’ve seen previously the process of how I can turn that little scribble into a finished painting. It saves lots of time and explaining.

  • Does how you illustrate junior fiction differ from how you illustrate a picture book? How do you target children in each age bracket with illustration?

For any book I try to expand and reinforce what the words are saying. But then I always like to stick in lots of little additions to discover. Some for adults and some for kids – as long as they don’t overwhelm the story that needs to be told on that page. For example, in Dragon Knight you might see Foole in the background (who strikes a remarkable resemblance to the idiotic Shlok from Dinosaur Rescue), although he’s not actually a character in the story. Similarly, Red Riding Hood contains dozens of hidden surprises – ‘hidden’ because I don’t want them to overshadow the flow of the story.

The main difference, is that in a picture book, the words are often reduced down to elegant and evocative sentences, meaning that the pictures carry a lot of the practical storytelling (the who, where, when, how). On the other hand, in a chapter book, the words are doing a lot more practical storytelling, which allows the pictures to do things which aren’t pure storytelling. So in Dragon Knight I can create all sorts of funny asides that expand upon the world of the actual story, like: ‘Dragon Illnesses’; or ‘Common Knight School Injuries’. On top of that, a chapter book has a lot of pages to fill. The text generally takes up about a quarter of the 96 pages. With all that space, I have a lot more freedom to control how the story flows, with dynamic reveals and page-turning surprises.

Of course I also try to do that in a picture book, but you have limited options with only 32 pages.

  • Can you recommend any books for children who love your style of illustration?

I love stories that have a lot to discover. A reason to go back again and again. Sometimes I look at favourite books I had as a kid and discover a joke that makes sense now I’m all growed up. Asterix, and Graham Oakley’s Church Mice series are examples of superb storytelling with pictures. They are jam-packed with funny references to things which you may not understand for years. Harder to find is anything by Mordillo, like his Crazy Crazy Jungle Life. Mordillo was a master of the wordless book. Another of my favourites is Bill Peet, if you can track down his marvelous books like How Droofus the Dragon Lost his Head, Wump World, or Burford the Little Bighorn. Bill Peet was one of the original founders of Disney and he worked on Dumbo before having a fall-out with Walt Disney and starting a second career in children’s books.

  • What advice would you give any would-be illustrator?

Absorb what other illustrators do. Figure out what you like and don’t like (and why) then develop your own ideas – that’s what makes you a unique artist. A picture book illustrator is different from other types of artist – you don’t need to be the best drawer or painter, instead you need to be a great storyteller.

  • What do you find yourself drawing when you aren’t working, perhaps when you are just thinking something through

If I’m mindlessly doodling tend to draw little swirling lines, usually with pointy arrow heads for some reason. It takes about a year before the pad on my drawing desk ends up completely covered with these squiggles and gets thrown away. It’s not the type of thing I normally keep.

I don’t really do any drawings are not ‘work’. I’m not the type of artist who secretly longs to paint landscapes or abstract art. I love the art form of the picture book, it’s my artistic obsession, so that’s what I do for fun. When I’m not working on ‘work’, all my spare time is devoted to scribbling research pictures, reference compositions and doodles for projects that I hope will be published one day. Usually these books start as something that I want to draw pictures of – I wrote Monkey Boy so I could draw pictures of 19th century warships, battles and ghastly ghouls. The only thing I draw outside of picture books are my family. I have quite a collection of drawings and paintings of my three daughters.


If you want to know more about Donovan, check out his website here: http://www.donovanbixley.com/

For reviews of Little Red Riding Hood (Not Quite), check out the Booksellers NZ review here: http://booksellersnz.wordpress.com/2015/04/09/book-review-little-red-riding-hood-not-quite-by-yvonne-morrison-illustrated-by-donovan-bixley/

And my review here on the blog.

This is day seven of the blog tour featuring each of the finalists in the Children’s Choice category of the awards. Later today, I will post Yvonne Morrison’s answers to the author’s interview for  this title.  Yesterday’s feature was I am not a Worm, by Scott Tulloch, whose interview can be found here: http://thriftygifty.blogspot.co.nz/2015/07/nz-book-awards-for-children-and-young_2.html.  Monday’s feature will be our third picture book, Doggy Ditties from A to Z, by Jo van Dam and Myles Lawford will be covered back on Thrifty Gifty http://thriftygifty.blogspot.co.nz/.

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Filed under 2015 Children's Choice Award, 2015 New Zealand Book Awards for Children and Young Adults, authors, books, children, children's fiction, Illustrators, New Zealand

Win the Dinosaur Rescue Megasaurus Mash-up 2

MegasaurusI’m a huge fan of the Dinosaur Rescue series by Kyle Mewburn and Donovan Bixley.  They’re hilarious adventure stories full of all sorts of disgusting things, they’re chock-full of prehistoric facts and perfect for younger readers.  The second bind-up of Dinosaur Rescue stories (books 5-8) has just been released by Scholastic NZ, which contains Spino-rottysaurus, Dako-snappysaurus, Scuto-stickysaurus and Salto-scaredypus.  One of the added extras of these mash-ups that I really like is the Meet the Creators pages in the back.  Donovan’s prehistoric likeness of himself and Kyle makes me laugh every time I see it and their answers to the questions are so funny.

Thanks to Scholastic NZ I have a copy of Dinosaur Rescue Megasaurus Mash-up 2 to give away.  All you need to do to get in the draw is enter your name and email address in the form below.  Competition closes Monday 17 June (NZ only).

Thanks to everyone who entered.  The winner is James.


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Win the Dinosaur Rescue Megasaurus Mash-up 1

The Dinosaur Rescue series by Kyle Mewburn and Donovan Bixley is one of my favourite New Zealand series for kids.  Each of the books are chock full of prehistoric adventure and fun facts, as well as plenty of dinosaur farts, poo and vomit.  All of this makes for a hilarious read.

Scholastic New Zealand have just released the Megasaurus Mash-up of the first 4 books in the series, which includes T-wreck-asaurus, Stego-snottysaurus, Velocitchy-raptor and Diplo-dizzydocus.  The eighth book in the series, Salto-scaredypus was also released last month and there is an exciting announcement about the series to come later in the year.

Thanks to Scholastic New Zealand I have a copy of the Megasaurus Mash-up 1 to give away.  All you have to do to get in the draw is enter your name and email address in the form below.  Competition closes Wednesday 17 April (NZ only).

Thanks to everyone who entered.  The winner is Angela.

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Fast Five with Donovan Bixley

  • Why did you want to be a writer?

I wanted to illustrate things that I was really interested in, which doesn’t always happen when you illustrate other author’s stories. So I decided to write my own stories.

  • What’s the best thing about being a writer?

Coming up with ideas is very exciting. The hard part is the months and years it take to make those ideas good enough. Through a lot of hard work they get turned into a finished book.

  • What’s your favourite New Zealand book? 

“Sydney and the Sea Monster” by David Elliot. I also love “The Word Witch” by Margaret Mahy and David Elliot.

  • What do you love most about New Zealand?

I love that we’re a small country, with a population not much bigger than a city in most countries. New Zealanders are fairly humble and relaxed people on the whole, and not too stressed out. I love being able to enjoy our lakes and mountains and coasts with my family.

  • What do you love most about libraries?

I like browsing the shelves and finding books that I would not normally look at. I still like to get reference books from the library. The Internet is not quite the same.

Looky BookDonovan Bixley is an author and illustrator who has created the illustrations for his own books and for books by other authors.  He has created Kiwi versions of The Wheels on the Bus and Old MacDonald’s Farm, and his latest book is the wonderful Kiwi-themed puzzle book, The Looky Book.  Donovan has also illustrated Brian Falkner’s Northwood and Maddy West and the Tongue Taker, and created the Dinosaur Rescue series with Kyle Mewburn.

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Picture Book Nook: The Three Bears (Sort of) by Yvonne Morrison and Donovan Bixley

If you think you know the story of Goldilocks and the Three Bears then you better think again.  I’m sure you’ve never had a child pointing out the loop holes in the story as you read it before.  This is exactly what happens in Yvonne Morrison and Donovan Bixley’s new take on the story, The Three Bears (Sort of).

A mother starts to read the story of Goldilocks and the Three Bears to her son before bed, but he doesn’t just sit there quietly and listen to the story.  This boy is both switched-on and rather annoying.  His mother can only read a sentence or two before he points out an issue with the story.  First, he wants to know what sort of bears they were (Grizzly bears? Polar bears?). He also points out that daddy bears don’t live with mummy bears (mummy bears raise their cubs alone), that bears don’t have thumbs so they couldn’t pick up a pot for the porridge, and that bears would probably just eat fish instead of porridge.  Every time he questions a detail of the story you wonder why you hadn’t thought of that yourself.

The Three Bears (Sort of) is an entertaining and unique retelling of Goldilocks and the Three Bears that adults will enjoy as much as children.  Yvonne Morrison’s text will have you in stitches! It’s full of sarcasm that adults especially will love and she’s captured the voice of an inquisitive toddler and the mother (who’s making it up as she goes along) perfectly. Donovan Bixley’s illustrations are absolutely wonderful and really match the humour of the story and the way it’s being told.  The hands of the mother and son can be seen on some of the pages, as they draw or add pictures into the story.  Donovan’s Goldilocks looks both cute and bratty, and I love the facial expressions of the bears.  I think Donovan is New Zealand’s own Anthony Browne, because of the way he adds extra details into his illustrations that add another layer to the story.  On the very first page, above the publication details, there are some interesting objects on the mantelpiece, including soft toy bears, a card for a locksmith, and a postcard from Svalbard.  You’ll also notice the tree patterns on the wallpaper.  I also really love the way that Donovan has designed the book, with the son’s interruptions inside a box on the page and in a different, childish font.  This makes it clear to see when the son is talking and when the mother is talking.

It’s perfect for reading aloud one-on-one or with a large group, and it’s ideal for acting out, as one person could be the mother and one person could be the son.  This is how we’ll be performing it at our Three Bears Breakfast at Shirley Library in Christchurch next Saturday (16 March).

5 out of 5 stars


Filed under books, children, Illustrators, New Zealand, NZ Book Month 2013, Picture Book Nook, picture books

Dinosaur Rescue: Scuto-stickysaurus

Like many boys around the country I look forward to a new Dinosaur Rescue book from the wonderful Kyle Mewburn and Donovan Bixley.  Each book gives me my dose of prehistoric facts, disgusting dinosaur behaviour and wild adventures with Arg the brainy cave boy.  Arg’s latest adventure is Scuto-stickysaurus.

In Scuto-stickysaurus, disgusted by his family’s eating habits, Arg leaves his cave to search for the cause of the terrible noise that is filling the air.  He discovers a Scutosaurus, a very slow, heavily armoured dinosaur, and he sets off to save it from his tribe’s hunting party.  It’s not long before he finds himself stuck to the Scutosaurus with no way to pry himself loose.  It’s up to his good friend Skeet to rescue him and the Scutosaurus before it’s too late.

Scuto-stickysaurus has the perfect mix of fact, fiction and stinky dinosaurs that I love about this very cool series.  In this book you can:

  • Learn how to look like a Neanderthal,
  • Find out about a prehistoric trip to the dentist,
  • Get some jungle survival tips (Bear Grylls style)
  • Learn about dangerous jungle plants
  • Discover the perfect way to escape a Deadly Mouth Plant.

There’s also plenty of dinosaur poo and farts to go around, and when it comes to these, Arg is always in the wrong place at the wrong time.  It’s the combination of the story and the illustrations that makes this series so hilarious.  Scuto-stickysaurus is the 7th book in the series and it’s just as good as the 1st book, T-wreck-asaurus.  I hope that Kyle and Donovan have got plenty more ideas up their sleeves for Arg’s future adventures.

Thanks to Scholastic New Zealand I have 2 copies of Scuto-stickysaurus to give away.  You can enter here.


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Win a Dinosaur Rescue Prize Pack

Scuto-stickysaurus is the latest book in Kyle Mewburn and Donovan Bixley’s disgusting and hilarious Dinosaur Rescue series.  Each book gives me my dose of prehistoric facts, disgusting dinosaur behaviour and wild adventures with Arg the brainy cave boy.  You can read my review here.

Did you know there is an awesome new Dinosaur Rescue website?  Head to www.dinosaur-rescue.com to have a look at all the interesting information and cool activities.

Thanks to Scholastic New Zealand I have a Dinosaur Rescue prize pack to give away, including a copy of Scuto-stickysaurus and 2 other Dinosaur Rescue books .  To get in the draw all you have to do is enter your name and email address in the form below, and tell me 2 things that you can find at www.dinosaur-rescue.com.  Competition closes Wednesday 28 November (NZ only).

Thanks to everyone who entered.  The winner is Annette.

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Win The Looky Book by Donovan Bixley

The Looky Book is a cool new puzzle book by New Zealand author/illustrator Donovan Bixley, with 11 different puzzles, all with colourful New Zealand landscapes, birds and animals.  There are heaps of things to find in each picture, like find the numbers with the crazy All Black lambs, spot the difference with the mischievous keas, find the animals hidden deep in the bush, and match the farmers to their animals. You can read my full review and my interview with Donovan here on the blog.

I have a copy to give away and all you need to do is enter your name and email address in the form below.  Competition closes Thursday 1 November (NZ only).

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Interview with Donovan Bixley

Donovan Bixley is my favourite New Zealand illustrator.  He has illustrated Kiwi versions of The Wheels on the Bus and Old MacDonald, written and illustrated a book about Mozart, called Faithfully Mozart, and illustrated work by other authors, including Kyle Mewburn (the Dinosaur Rescue series) and Brian Falkner (Northwood and Maddy West and the Tongue Taker).  Donovan has just published his amazing Kiwi-themed puzzle book, The Looky Book (which I reviewed here on the blog).  I was lucky enough to be able to ask Donovan a few questions about his illustration, his new book, and working with other authors.

  • Your illustrations they seem to glow on the page.  What materials/tools do you use to create them?

Most of my work is hand drawn and digitally painted. I come from a painting background, and when I was a AUT the first computers came in. I began scanning my paintings and drawings and mucking about with them in Photoshop 1 – ha ha, you couldn’t do much. I’ve kinda just kept working on it for years and years and now that is the thing I am really highly skilled at. If I were more highly skilled at water colours or oils I would use that medium. I usually treat my digital work as a normal painting – however I’m not precious about it (I’m not here to preserve the sanctity of ‘the art’). I have a vision in my head and I’ll use any means necessary to achieve that. I once had a woman come up to me at a Storylines and ask about my illustrations. When I told her they were digital paintings she stormed off in disgust, as if the computer had done all the work – however some of my paintings, such as those from my book “Faithfully Mozart”, take 70-80 hours.

  • Who influences your illustration?

Well I’m still trying to live up to my heroes, like Norman Rockwell. I am huge fan of the turn of the century illustrators like Arthur Rackham, Maxfield Parish and Edmund Dulac and also their modern equivalents, like the brilliant Russian illustrator Gennardy Spirin. A lot of my work features that kind of old-fashioned ornamentation – swirly things just seems to naturally come out. They often get cut out of the final illustrations for various reasons. There are an incredible amount of illustrators who I follow avidly, like Dave McKean, Shawn Tan or John Howe, but usually this is simple admiration rather than influence. It would be pretty hard for someone of my generation not to be influenced by people like Bill Peet or Dr Suess – in fact I spend a lot of time now consciously trying to be influenced by my childhood memories, I especially like a bit of humour such as Mad Magazine or Mordillo. In that way I don’t often seek out other illustrators to inspire me. I find that I am drawing influences straight out of myself – which I suppose is where you get your own style from – all that stuff goes into you and gets all mixed up and eventually after many years you stop trying to emulate your heroes. You are just you.

  • You’ve created Kiwi versions of The Wheels on the Bus and Old MacDonald.  What do you enjoy most about putting your own Kiwi spin on these classic rhymes?

I was a bit apprehensive about doing those two books actually, but what thrilled me about them both was the challenge as an illustrator. One: they’re often stories that get done so badly and I was determined that they had the potential to be really cool. Two: was the open-ness of the text. I often use “Wheels on the Bus” as a perfect illustration example when I’m doing workshops with school kids – because the words don’t constrict your imagination. All it says is “the wheels on the bus go round and round …” and the rest is up to you. So in that respect both of those books were a real pleasure to add my spin and create a whole world outside of the basic text. I loved some of the things that came out of it like ‘The All Black Lambs’ and ‘Squidly’ the colossal squid. Having said that, you’d probably guess from the variety of my other work that I really hate to be pidgeon-holed as an illustrator. I didn’t want to become ‘the guy who does kiwiana versions of old songs’. So that’s how I ended up doing “The Looky Book” – I wanted to take all those characters and situations from “Wheels on the Bus” and “Old MacDonald’s Farm” and do something different with them. So I started thinking about the type of books I loved when I was a kid.


  • Your latest book, The Looky Book, is amazing! There is so much to find on each page.  How did you decide what puzzles and scenes you would create?

It was actually much more difficult that it appears. Since the book is aimed primarily at pre-schoolers, a lot of more complicated ideas had to be thrown out. Yet at the same time I always try and make my books have something to appeal to all ages. There are little things in there that the kids won’t get until they are older, maybe not until they are adults. As an illustrator, that’s an important thing for me, it keeps the illustrations alive, even after years of the reader looking at them, because they’re seeing things in a new light. It also makes the books entertaining for parents to read. Kids are little explorers and I strongly believe in giving them lots of opportunities to discover new things on each page. You’d be surprised how a kid will pick up on a tiny little aspect of a story or illustration and they’ll go off and find out all about it. If you don’t give them those opportunities then the book becomes flat and boring and will only be read a few times. As far as the puzzles that ended up in the book, I really wanted to cover a variety of entertaining visual tasks for pre-schoolers. So among the general ‘I spy’ elements are things like finding numbers, matching colours or patterns, and putting things into groups.

  • How long did it take you to create each spread?  Did you have to plan them in great detail before you started?

I’m not sure how long each spread took, the whole book was a few months work spread over half a year. As I mentioned above, a lot of initial work on sketches for spreads got thrown out for being too complicated. I guess the longest would have taken a week and generally involved quite a lot of planning – more in composition, just to fit everything in. With most of my books I brainstorm a lot with my wife and three daughters, at the dinner table or in the car, coming up with ideas. So I’d have this big list of things that needed to fit somewhere in a spread and then have to figure out where that ‘where’ would be. In terms of sketch planning, I’ve stopped doing highly detailed roughs. I find that I enjoy illustrating, and get much better results, if I leave a lot of room for creativity in the final illustration. For a recent Scholastic book, “The Three Bears Sort Of” by Yvonne Morrison, I didn’t actually do any roughs at all. Instead I sent the publisher a letter telling them what I was going to do and created each page as I went. Luckily they really had faith in my ability to pull it off, and the result was a real creative explosion rather than just the technical process of turning a sketch into a finished illustration.

  • Which spread was your favourite and which was the hardest to get perfect?

My favourite is the underwater scene. It’s a homage to one of my favourite books as a kid, “Patatrac” by Jean Jacques Loup. “Patatrac” is this funny French book from the 70s without words, just crazy pictures with lots going on and no actual story. Books like that and books like Richard Scarry’s were part of the inspiration for the “The Looky Book”. As a kid I could sit for hours just looking at the pictures (actually I still do as an adult). The most difficult illustration was the forest scene, where plants and bushes make up shapes and outlines of New Zealand animals. I often have a really good idea in my head, but then making it work in the real world is a challenge. That picture took a lot of planning and was the longest to create (actually the complete opposite of how I just answered the previous question ha ha). I still worry that it didn’t work quite as well as I’d imagined it.

  • You’ve created some wonderful illustrations for other authors’ work, including Brian Falkner (Northwood, Maddy West and the Tongue Taker) and Kyle Mewburn (the Dinosaur Rescue series).  What’s the best thing about working collaboratively?

I love being able to work with other authors, it means I get the best of both worlds. When there is something I really want to illustrate I create it for myself, but working with other authors allows me to create things that I never would have chosen to do on my own – it always helps if that thing fits into your areas of interest. Brian’s “Maddy West” was a real treat for me – the chance to do ninjas, break-dancing monkeys, witches, wolves and ravens and creepy old gothic houses – all these things fit right into the more serious and darker side of my work, but are far from the humourous subjects I am usually asked to illustrate. “Dinosaur Rescue” is a particular favourite. I mean, I’ve been drawing dinosaurs since I was able to pick up chalk, so it’s a dream come true to be doing it as a professional! It’s also a thrill because there’s so much room for humour and it’s a true collaboration. Kyle creates something, then I take it and add to it, then Kyle comes back and takes the something I did and adds onto that … and so on. Often the best developments are when one of us takes a little aspect, a word or a corner of an illustration, and develops a whole new branch of story from there. Best of all it’s tremendous fun which I hope is apparent to the readers.

  • What are you working on at the moment?

I’ve just this week begun work on a Margaret Mahy book which is a huge honour for any illustrator, and very exciting. Margaret’s work is unlike anything I’ve ever illustrated before. Often I’ll have a very obvious text that drives the illustrations, and within that I create my unique part of the story. Margaret Mahy’s works are perfect for an illustrator because (as mentioned with “Wheels on the Bus”) they don’t constrain you. I can’t quite put my finger on it, but there’s a lightness and freedom. She has an incredible way with words which is just so lovely – words for the joy of words and the sounds they make in you mouth. It’s also a lovely little story too with a nice plot and darling characters. It’s the type of work that could fall very flat or soar, depending on how you illustrate it – and I have to say I’m a little bit nervous, but I have a feeling it’s going to be very delightful.

I’m also working on my next book for Hachette, which is another of my own called “The Weather Machine”. It’s a bit like those books I was talking about above, Mordillo and “Patatrac” – a book without words – which I’ve wanted to do for years. It’s about a man who makes a machine to control the weather, with Frankenstein-ish results.


Thanks for joining me Donovan.  I loved your answers and it’s always great to get an insight into an illustrator’s work.  You can find Donovan at his website, www.donovanbixley.com and on Facebook.

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