Following his books for adults about the outdoors and natural environment, Philip Temple pioneered a new kind of children’s picture book with his colleague, artist Chris Gaskin. The concept was a creative non-fiction approach to stories about New Zealand birds within the context of a larger environmental theme. Their first collaboration was Moa, the Story of a Fabulous Bird (1985) which told the life story of one of New Zealand’s giant prehistoric birds within the larger theme of avian extinction. The book was divided into a larger story section with Gaskin’s fine illustrations, followed by a smaller strictly factual section that could be used for educational purposes by parents or teachers. The story could be read to children as young as three or four while older children could enjoy reading the book for themselves.
In the same format, Moa was followed by Kakapo, Parrot of the Night (1988) which told the story of the world’s largest flightless parrot being rescued from predators on Stewart Island, where it had been rediscovered a few years earlier. The book’s theme was the rescue and protection of rare endangered species at what was the beginning of the now well-established kakapo recovery programme. Kotuku, Flight of the White Heron was published in 1994 and, with another sequence of Chris Gaskin’s masterly drawings, told how the white heron naturally migrated to New Zealand across the Tasman Sea centuries ago. The story of the heron represents the way many of the country’s indigenous birds have arrived in the country.
All three of these books were children’s book award finalists, Kakapo winning in 1990 and Kotuku achieving an honour award in 1995.
Between the appearance of these creative non-fiction titles, Philip and Chris also published two picture books based on kea legends included in Philip’s best-selling novel Beak of the Moon. Legend of the Kea appeared first in 1986 and Krakto, Champion of the World in 1995.
The Temple and Gaskin picture books have sold tens of thousands of copies.
After a long hiatus, Philip and Chris are now working on a new creative non-fiction project, ‘Flight of the Kea’, which looks at environmental change in the Southern Alps as seen through the life story of one kea, Toa. This will be published in 2013 by Gecko Press.
Rights availability: All of the picture books are 32 pages long and are currently out of print.
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