Tribute: Trevor Pye (1952-2023)

Children’s book illustrator, author and artist Trevor Pye passed away on 17 January 2023. Born in Te Awamutu in 1952, Trevor worked as an art teacher, artist, lecturer and children’s book illustrator. His illustrations appear in over 200 books, alongside the words of some of Aotearoa’s best-known authors, including Joy Cowley, Sheryl Jordan and Jenny Hessell.

Write and illustrate the things you love rather than what others tell you to write or illustrate.

Christchurch City Library Website, An Interview With Trevor Pye

Trevor Pye grew up in Ngaere, a small Taranaki dairy farming town. Around the age of eleven, he discovered Mad Magazine, an American satirical humour publication, and started copying the pictures. The influence the comic book art of Mad Magazine had Trevor’s style can be seen in some of the picture book artwork he produced: “The four boys are caricatured in the style of Mad Magazine, an aspect nicely met by Trevor Pye’s cartoons” (Trevor Agnew, The Source, review of Skateboarders by William Taylor illustrated by Trevor Pye).

Despite continuing to draw and have an interest in art throughout his youth, he did not embark on a career as an artist and illustrator at first. In the 1970s, he moved to Wellington and took on various jobs, before moving to Adelaide in 1977. He had hoped to secure a well-paid position in mining, but instead found himself house-painting and grave-digging. 

At the age of 30, Trevor enrolled in a four year course in art at the North Adelaide School of Art. At the completion of his study, he sent examples of his work to every New Zealand publishing house, and returned to live in Aotearoa. In 1989, Trevor illustrated his first book, Ruth Corrin’s It Always Rains For Jackie. 

Trevor Pye’s cartoons capture the mood of gentle fun.

Trevor Agnew, The Source, review of Furze the Fixer written by Jenny Hessell, illustrated by Trevor Pye

In 1990, Trevor illustrated the first of Jenny Hessell’s Granny McGarvey books. This collaboration would endure for thirty years and a dozen books. Trevor’s illustrations graced the pages of over forty picture books by the end of the twentieth century, and by 2023 that number had grown to over 200 books in New Zealand, Australia and the USA. His illustrations captured the essence of the characters he depicted, and became an inseparable aspect of some books series, such as Joy Cowley’s Wild West books and William Taylor’s Fatz Twins series (in which he created black and white drawings of disinterested felines, a departure from his bright, busy cartoons in previous picture books.)

First thing when looking to illustrate a text is for the illustrator to begin to develop a feel for the kind of character or characters that inhabit the story – what are the most appropriate beings for this story? I often put myself in a ‘first person’ space and become the central character – how do I feel about the things that are happening around me and how do I, the main character feel. Out of that comes a character.

Trevor Pye, Blog, on The Picture Book Art of Trevor Pye

Putting a pen on a piece of paper is a wonderful thing to do – it surprises me every time I do it.

Picture Book Magic, p.47 –Trevor Pye talking to Chris Gaskin.

In 1996, Trevor was featured in Chris Gaskin’s Picture Book Magic, which featured interviews with nine of Aotearoa’s foremost illustrators. In 1997m, he received a Master of Fine Arts from the University of Auckland, and in addition to his illustrating work, Trevor also exhibited his art in many shows in Australia and New Zealand. His contribution to Aotearoa children’s literature cannot be overstated; his artwork brought joy to countless young readers, and his legacy will live on. 


2014 Storylines Gaelyn Gordon Award for a Much Loved Book Grandma McGarvey by Jenny Hessell, illustrated by Trevor Pye

2001 Unesco Highly Commended Award for Young People’s Literature in the Service of Tolerance The AOK Project by Vivenne Joseph, illustrated by Trevor Pye

1994 QEII Arts Council Grant Children’s Writing Bursary – for 2 titles: Ben & the Alien Invasion written & illustrated by Trevor Pye, The Big Race written & illustrated by Trevor Pye

1993 Aim New Zealand Children’s Book Awards Picture Book Section, Honour Award Grandma McGarvey Paints the Shed written by Jenny Hessell, illustrated by Trevor Pye

1992 New Zealand Children’s Book Awards Picture Book Section 2nd Prize My Aunt Mary Went Shopping by Roger Hall, illustrated by Trevor Pye

Ruth Oy Har Agnew

Ruth is a writer and teacher of Chinese and Pākehā descent from Ōtautahi Christchurch. She has written for Theatreview, The Press, Stuff, Flat Takahe, What’s Up Christchurch, and the Playmarket Annual. She is an experienced actor, and currently works supporting young performers as a speech and drama teacher.