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Donovan Bixley


Donovan Bixley

Donovan Bixley ONZM’s Biography

Last Updated:
28/05/2024, 10:26 am
Mallinson Rendel Illustrators Award 2017
"I became a children’s book creator because of 'The Lorax' by Dr Seuss. I thought, if I could create a book that was so undiminished in its energy, its vibrancy, and its message – a book that was still beloved by children almost 50 years after it was made … then that would be a worthwhile use of my talents as an writer and artist."

Donovan Bixley was born a stone’s throw from the golden beaches of Perth, Australia. Alas, his life as a bronzed, speedo-wearing, barbecued-prawn-eating surf god was not to be. Instead his Kiwi parents returned to New Zealand where Donovan grew up in the geothermal wilds beside Lake Taupo in New Zealand's Central North Island, where spiky cabbage trees became Dr Seuss’s Truffula Trees and the stone-strewn hills were a perfect stand-in for Bill Peet’s Droofus The Dragon.

From prolific childhood doodler, Donovan has gone on to become one of New Zealand’s most acclaimed picture book creators, with books published in 31 countries and translated into 18 languages. His work is nothing if not varied, spanning high–brow to low–brow and every brow in between, from his sublime illustrated biography Faithfully Mozart, to the ridiculous hijinks of feline aviators in Flying Furballs and more than 100 books in between.

In 2017, Fuzzy Doodle, written by Melinda Szymanik and illustrated by Donovan, was selected by the International Youth Library in Munich as a White Raven, listing it as one of the top 200 children’s books in the world. This was Donovan’s second White Raven, with his innovative hybrid, part-novel part-comic Monkey Boy being selected in 2015. Monkey Boy also won Best Junior Fiction at the New Zealand Book Awards for Children and Young Adults (NZBACYA). His illustrated biography, Much Ado About Shakespeare won The 2016 Russell Clark Illustration Award. In 2014, The Three Bears Sort Of, written by Yvonne Morrison and illustrated by Donovan, won the Overall Children’s Choice at the NZBACYA. This book also won the Children’s Choice at the 2014 Western Australian Young Readers Book Awards. Eighteen of Donovan’s books have featured on the New Zealand bestseller list, often concurrently, and he has been a number one bestseller in Norway with the Dinosaur Rescue series, co-created with Kyle Mewburn.

Donovan’s early drawings were dominated by dinosaurs and aeroplanes, and his unmatched skill at depicting trucks was a great way to get the school bully on side. At age seven his mother read him The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings, which were a huge influence on his creative development along with Asterix, Footrot Flats, and Graham Oakley’s Church Mice series. At high school Donovan was not allowed to study history because his teachers didn’t want him to do ALL art subjects (Heaven forbid!). They made him to do physics instead. Funnily enough Donovan has never needed to know physics for any of his books, but he HAS researched a lot of historical subjects.

Donovan studied film, illustration and design at AUT’s School of Art and Design in Auckland, working initially in the film and advertising industries. With a commercial background, Donovan has worked as an art director for many publishers across various genres, and his work has been recognised at the book design awards. Like many of New Zealand’s greatest children’s book creators, Donovan got his first entry into children’s books, illustrating and writing stories for the The New Zealand School Journal. Donovan’s real passion is for writing and illustrating chapter books for junior fiction readers, and as an author, illustrator and designer he brings a strong vision to all his projects.

As well as his own books, Donovan has also worked with top international-selling New Zealand authors: Brian Falkner (illustrating the novels Northwood and Maddy West and the Tongue Taker); Kyle Mewburn (co-creating the Dinosaur Rescue, Dragon Knight and Dinosaur Trouble series); and illustrating Dashing Dog by New Zealand’s world famous children’s author, the late Margaret Mahy.

When not immersed in the world of picture books, Donovan plays saxophone, piano and guitar and is singer and percussionist for 13 piece funk/jazz ensemble Hot Tub. He has performed on stage as Marius in Les Misérables and also worked behind the scenes as a set designer and painter. He still lives in Taupo, New Zealand, with his wife and three daughters.