A visit with Donovan Bixley

A highlight has to be our visit with Donovan Bixley. Through the New Zealand Book Council, authors visit schools and talk about their work.

This is our second author visit - the last being in 2018 with Te Kahu Rolleston. Having an author visit allows students to understand “connections between oral, written, and visual language” which is part of our English writing curriculum in Years 3 and 4.

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This visit was special as Donovan is a local author and lives in Taupo. He said he hardly visits local schools but gets invited to schools out of town and around the world.

Donovan Bixley is a well-known children’s author and illustrator. He has written 30 books, and illustrated 120 books. Donovan wrote his first book at the age of 7, called Return of the Bellrog, which was inspired by Lord of the Rings. He still has this first book and he even read a chapter to us - ‘The Forest of Death’. This was in a small notebook.

He hand-writes his books first and explained that a lot of editing is needed. He does not type his stories on a computer first because he feels computers are too distracting. “I would soon be looking up videos of cat flying planes,” he said.

Donovan has written an entire series of books called Flying Furballs, about cats who fly planes around Europe, in a war with dogs. Donovan shared this trailer with us all, featuring the main protagonist, Claude D’Bonair. Nathan commented, “It’s not just a chapter book - it’s a picture book as well.” This really enticed our students.

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Mistakes are a part of writing, he told us. We should borrow words and phrases we read in our favourite stories as this is how we learn to be writers. We have to hook the reader in with interesting words. Our goal is to make our reader turn the page.

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Where does Donovan get his ideas? “Ideas and inspiration are all around us,” Donovan explained. He starts by dumping ideas into a notebook and draws lots and lots of versions of what his characters might be like. What do they look like when they’re angry, sad or joyful? “A drawing is a whole story,” Donovan told us. “No one is bad at drawing.”

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Donovan thrilled us when he drew characters from some of his books on our class whiteboards. Just how did he make our boring whiteboards come to life like that? I doubt we will erase the plane from Flying Furballs or Maui from How Maui Fished Up the North Island in a hurry.

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Students from the Aratiatia classes had a lot of questions. Others (Clara, Tessa and Chloe) were somewhat star-struck, getting Donovan to sign books they had brought along.

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“Is your favourite animal a cat?” (“Actually, I love to draw octopus and squid,” Donovan responded.)

“Do you get paid?”

“How many books have you written?”

“What do the cats do when they’re not flying planes?”

We thank Donovan for his visit with us - I know he has inspired another generation of local writers.

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Curriculum links: English L2 - Writing - Processes and Strategies

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