13 minute read

Nic Bishop (1955–) Biography

Personal, Addresses, Career, Honors Awards, Writings, Sidelights

Born 1955; father a biology teacher and science writer, mother a scientist. Education: University of Nottingham, B.Sc. (with honors), 1976; University of Canterbury, Ph.D. (plant science), 1989.

Nic Bishop


Agent—c/o Author Mail, Houghton Mifflin, 222 Berkeley St., Boston, MA 02116-3764.


Massey University, Palmerston North, New Zealand, research fellow, 1977–80; University of Canterbury, Canterbury, New Zealand, tutor and researcher, 1980–86; writer and photographer, 1988–. Appeared in television documentaries, including an episode of the series Beyond 2000, broadcast by the Discovery Channel, 1994; guest on radio programs in New Zealand.

Honors Awards

Selected among ten best books of 1992 by both Metro and North and South magazines, and Wattie Book Award (now Montana Book Award), 1993, all for Natural History of New Zealand; Montana Book Award, 1995, for From the Mountains to the Sea; New Zealand National Library Award for best children's nonfiction book of 1996, and New Zealand Post Children's Book Award, 1997, both for The Garden; New Zealand National Library Award honor as one of five best children's nonfiction books of 1996, for The Field; New Zealand Post Children's Book Award, 1997, for The Seashore; Reading Magic Award, Parenting magazine, and Best Books designation, School Library Journal, both 1997, and Blue Ribbon Book designation, Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books, and John Burroughs Nature Books for Young Readers Award, both 1998, all for The Secrets of Animal Flight; Boston Globe-Horn Book Award, 1999, for Red-eyed Tree Frog; International Reading Association Children's Book Award, 2000, for The Snake Scientist; Robert F. Sibert Informational Honor Book, 2005, for The Tarantula Scientist.



Untouched Horizons: Photographs from the South Island Wilderness (for adults), Hodder & Stoughton (Auckland, New Zealand), 1989.

Natural History of New Zealand (for adults), illustrations by Chris Gaskin, Hodder & Stoughton (Auckland, New Zealand), 1992.

From the Mountains to the Sea: The Secret Life of New Zealand's Rivers and Wetlands (for adults), Reed Books (Auckland, New Zealand), 1994.

Leap Frog, Scott, Foresman (Glenview, IL), 1994.

New Zealand Wild: The Greenest Place on Earth (for adults), Reed Books (Auckland, New Zealand), 1995.

Ready, Steady, Jump, Scott, Foresman (Glenview, IL), 1995.

The Secrets of Animal Flight, Houghton Mifflin (Boston, MA), 1997.

Strange Plants, Richard C. Owen (Katonah, NY), 1997.

The Green Snake, Wright Group (San Diego, CA), 1998.

The Katydids, Richard C. Owen (Katonah, NY), 1998.

Gecko Flies, Wright Group (San Diego, CA), 1998.

Mudskipper, Wright Group (San Diego, CA), 1998.

Canoe Diary, Scott, Foresman (Glenview, IL), 1998.

Caught in a Flash, Scott, Foresman (Glenview, IL), 1998.

Digging for Bird Dinosaurs: An Expedition to Madagascar ("Scientists in the Field" series), Houghton Mifflin (Boston, MA), 2000.

Backyard Detective: Critters up Close, Scholastic (New York, NY), 2002.

Forest Explorer: A Life-size Field Guide, Scholastic (New York, NY), 2004.


Owen Bishop, Wild Flowers of New Zealand, Hodder & Stoughton (Auckland, New Zealand), 1990.

Pat Quinn, The Bumble Bee, Scott, Foresman (Glenview, IL), 1993.

The Praying Mantis, Scott, Foresman (Glenview, IL), 1993.

Owen Bishop and Audrey Bishop, New Zealand Wild Flower Handbook (for adults), Hodder & Stoughton (Auckland, New Zealand), 1994.

Joy Cowley, Pukeko Morning, Scott, Foresman (Glenview, IL), 1994.

Jane Buxton, Snap, Splash, Scott, Foresman (Glenview, IL), 1994.

Diane Noonan, I Spy a Fly, Lands End (Lower Hutt, New Zealand), 1994.

Diane Noonan, On the Move, Lands End (Lower Hutt, New Zealand), 1994.

Diane Noonan, The Rocky Shore, Heinemann (New Zealand), 1996.

Diane Noonan, The Garden, Heinemann (New Zealand), 1996.

Diane Noonan, The Pond, Heinemann (New Zealand), 1996.

Diane Noonan, Lake Critter Journal, Scott, Foresman (Glenview, IL), 1996.

Joy Cowley, Sky to the Sea, Scott, Foresman (Glenview, IL), 1996.

Diane Noonan, The Field, Heinemann (New Zealand), 1996.

Joy Cowley, Swans, Heinemann (New Zealand), 1997.

Jill Eggleton, Spider Legs, Wright Group (San Diego, CA), 1997.

Sy Montgomery, The Snake Scientist ("Scientists in the Field" series), Houghton Mifflin (Boston, MA), 1999.

Joy Cowley, Red-eyed Tree Frog, Scholastic (New York, NY), 1999.

Ellen Jackson, Looking for Life in the Universe: The Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence ("Scientists in the Field" series), Houghton Mifflin (Boston, MA), 2002.

Sy Montgomery, The Tarantula Scientist ("Scientists in the Field" series), Houghton Mifflin (Boston, MA), 2004.

Joy Cowley, Chameleon Chameleon, Scholastic (New York, NY), 2005.

Contributor to books, including The Hills, by Mark Pickering, Reed Books, 1988, and Wild Walks, by Mark Pickering, Shoal Bay Press, 1995. Photographs have appeared in calendars and magazines, including Ranger Rick, Animals, Natural History, Pacific Way, International Photographer, Smithsonian, and New Zealand Geographic.


Nic Bishop has earned a reputation as an accomplished science author and photographer. He is best known for his stop-action wildlife photography, featured in such award-winning works as Red-eyed Tree Frog and The Tarantula Scientist. In the Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books, Deborah Stevenson remarked on Bishop's "greatest asset: bringing readers face to face with various species of science in all its fascinating glory. Not many books really give the natural world its due. If Bishop's involved with a book, you can be sure the world will be presented at its best."

Bishop once commented: "I have always been fascinated by nature. When I was young, my parents lived in Bangladesh, Sudan (in Africa), New Guinea, and Indonesia, where my father worked for UNESCO. My interest in photography began at age nine, when I borrowed my older sister's camera to record my time in the Sudan. Since then, I have not looked back. My teenage years in New Guinea were an especially wonderful experience. I was educated at home there for several years in the highlands and, without others of my age and race for company, I often spent my weekends hiking to local villages. I always took my camera to record the adventures.

"It was also in New Guinea that I was first exposed to the extraordinary diversity of life. The richness of species was amazing—especially insects—and they made fascinating subjects for home-school biology studies. My father was a biology teacher, so there was always lots of encouragement for me to learn natural history. It really wasn't suprising that I continued to study in the field of biology when I went to the university. I studied botany at a university in England, and then I moved to New Zealand, where I completed a doctorate in plant physiology.

"I maintained a strong interest in photography, natural history, and hiking, and I decided to find my future as a natural history author and photographer. With my background as a scientist, it was the smaller and more everyday animals that I found the most fascinating for photography. Our view of nature is very biased towards the big and seemingly spectacular animals, but biologically the small critters are the most important. On close and thoughtful inspection, they are also usually the most beautiful and intriguing.

"My interest in writing has followed my interest in photography. In many ways, I feel they are similar endeavors. Both are thoughtful processes that force one to articulate—on film or on paper—what it is about the subject that one finds interesting or challenging. Having involved myself with the process of learning and enquiring photographically, it is natural for me to want to put words on paper, too.

"In photographing small animals I have aimed to depict my subject on their terms, taking the viewer into their small world. My special camera techniques include high-speed photography of insects and birds in flight. It took a while to build the equipment I needed, and I had electronics help from my father. In the end we made a complex system of special flash guns and a shutter, with laser beams to trip the camera just as the subject flies into view. The equipment is not always reliable, and given that animal subjects have their moods, too, it can take a long time to get good results. It often takes a hundred shots just to get one that looks great.

"The thrill of high-speed photography is getting a picture of something that cannot be observed by eye. The results are also instructive, showing the wing motions that animals use to stay airborne, and this helped me explain the mechanisms of flight for my book The Secrets of Animal Flight."

Critics agreed that Bishop hit the mark with The Secrets of Animal Flight. In this book, the author explores all aspects of flight in the animal kingdom. With clear prose and full-color, stop-action photography he explains the mechanics of the flight of birds, bats, and insects. Of special interest are a series of photos isolating the individual stages of flight in a chickadee, wasp, and butterfly. "The many colorful photographs expand the text with precision and beauty," stated Carolyn Phelan in Booklist. Bishop even touches on fascinating aspects of flight that scientists don't fully understand, like why Monarch butterflies migrate to the same area in Mexico year after year, or why some birds can fly 2,000 miles nonstop, but the unanswered questions "won't keep this title from flying off the shelf," noted Susan S. Verner in the Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books. "This is the best type of science book—it really communicates the excitement of unlocking nature's secrets and leads readers on to discoveries of their own," enthused Ruth S. Vose in School Library Journal.

Bishop received a tremendous honor in 1999: he and author Joy Cowley received the Boston Globe-Horn Book Picture Book Award for Red-eyed Tree Frog, one of a very small number of nonfiction books geared to preschool children. Red-eyed Tree Frog is the story of a tiny frog's quest to find food without becoming food himself one evening. The book is told in simple sentences "without the slightest hint of anthropomorphism," commented Horn Book reviewer Lauren Adams.

Bishop and Cowley collaborated very closely on this story, since Cowley was limited in her storyline by what it was possible for Bishop to photograph. Bishop took pictures of some of the red-eyed tree frog's predators and prey in the rainforests of Costa Rica, but the photographs of the frog were taken in his studio, using a captive-bred subject. Bishop was apprehensive when Cowley pointed out that the book needed some dramatic tension and suggested that the frog needed to be in some grave danger. The greatest danger to wild redeyed tree frogs comes from snakes, so Bishop carefully set up a shot of a snake approaching the frog. He kept one hand on the snake at all times, but when the snake did try to strike, before he had taken a single picture, he
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was almost not fast enough at pulling it away. Bishop decided that this was too dangerous for the frog and stopped the shoot.

"But a small miracle happened," he recalled during his acceptance speech. "When I later processed the film in my camera, there was this single perfect shot—of the snake flicking its tongue and the frog scrabbling for safety. Even though I was barely aware of it at the time, I had pressed the shutter at the crucial instant." This truly was miraculous; it would normally take tens if not hundreds of attempts to capture the split-second flick of a snake's tongue in perfect conjunction with the frog leaping. Author Cowley was full of praise for Bishop in her own speech accepting the award. "He combines knowledge and fine technical skill with love of his subject matter and a deep understanding of the heart of a child," she said. "His illustrations are authentic, beautiful, and perfect for young readers."

Bishop has collaborated with author Sy Montgomery on two award-winning works: The Snake Scientist and The Tarantula Scientist. In the former, Bishop and Montgomery look at the scientific exploits of Bob Mason, a zoologist who studies red-sided garter snakes. Horn Book contributor Diana Lutz called the work "a solid introduction to the ethos of experimental science as seen by a genial scientist with a research topic whose kid appeal is hard to beat."

Arachnologist Sam Marshall is the focus of The Tarantula Scientist, "a vivid look at an enthusiastic scientist energetically and happily at work," according to School Library Journal critic Patricia Manning. In the work, Marshall, who supervises a "spider lab" at Hiram College in Ohio, ventures to French Guiana to hunt for the elusive eight-legged creatures. "Bishop's full-color photos, which concentrate on detail, not scale, are amazing," remarked Stephanie Zvirin in Booklist. "The color photography is outstanding, and so very interesting that even the squeamish may take a second look at the … tarantulas," wrote Horn Book reviewer Danielle J. Ford.

Bishop explores the work of another scientist—paleontologist Cathy Forster—in Digging for Bird Dinosaurs: An Expedition to Madagascar. Bishop's narrative centers on an expedition to the island of Madagascar where Forster, who specializes in bird fossils, searches for links between dinosaurs and modern birds. "This account of the development of scientific knowledge, linked closely to those who create it, makes the whole process highly appealing," Ford noted in Horn Book. Gillian Engberg, reviewing Digging for Bird Dinosaurs in Booklist, praised the "exceptional full-color images of scientists at work and the Malagasy landscape and people."

Astrophysicist Dr. Jill Tarter is the subject of Looking for Life in the Universe: The Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence, written by Ellen Jackson. School Library Journal contributor Ann G. Brouse called the work "an exciting, visually awesome look at frontier science."

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Bishop provides information on some 125 familiar creatures, including ladybugs, millipedes, and butterflies, in Backyard Detective: Critters up Close. The work is illustrated with Bishop's life-size photographs of the wild creatures. Booklist reviewer Kathleen Odean described Backyard Detective as "an attractive book that will serve as a good introduction for children new to the study of nature," and in School Library Journal, Susan Scheps commented, "For the child who is drawn to creepy-crawly critters, Bishop's oversized volume offers hours of visual pleasure."

In Forest Explorer: A Life-size Field Guide, Bishop looks at the plants, animals, and insects that inhabit a deciduous woodland. "With this beautiful and engrossing photographic guide, Bishop creates another exciting study of natural history," observed School Library Journal contributor Dona Ratterree. Booklist reviewer John Peters stated that Bishop's "photo collages [are] teeming with life," and a Kirkus Reviews critic wrote, "Awesome double-paged photographs of temperate forest creatures and detailed observations by an experienced naturalist" will appeal to young readers.

"When I began as a natural history author and photographer," Bishop once remarked, "my books were aimed at the adult audience, but I soon realized that many of my favorite photographs were appealing to children. Most of my books seem to feature bugs, frogs, and reptiles. With their open and inquisitive minds, children find these subjects fascinating, as I did when I was young. So now I work solely in the children's field. Nature is endlessly wonderful, and if I can use my photographs to help encourage a child's natural curiosity about the living world, then I feel I have achieved something really worthwhile."

Biographical and Critical Sources


Booklist, March 15, 1997, Carolyn Phelan, review of The Secrets of Animal Flight, p. 1236; May 15, 1999, Hazel Rochman, review of Red-eyed Tree Frog, p. 1696; April 15, 2000, Gillian Engberg, review of Digging for Bird-Dinosaurs: An Expedition to Madagascar, p. 1548; December 1, 2000, Stephanie Zvirin, review of Digging for Bird-Dinosaurs, p. 735; October 15, 2002, Kathleen Odean, review of Backyard Detective: Critters up Close, p. 408; January 1, 2004, John Peters, review of Forest Explorer: A Life-size Field Guide, p. pp. 849-850; March 15, 2004, Stephanie Zvirin, review of The Tarantula Scientist, p. 1304.

Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books, June, 1997, Susan S. Verner, review of The Secrets of Animal Flight, pp. 350-351; April, 2000, Deborah Stevenson, "Rising Star: Nic Bishop"; April, 2004, Deborah Stevenson, review of The Tarantula Scientist, pp. 342-343.

Horn Book, May-June, 1997, p. 337; March, 1999, Lauren Adams, review of Red-eyed Tree Frog, pp. 220-221; July, 1999, Diana Lutz, review of The Snake Scientist, p. 485; January-February, 2000, Lauren Adams, review of Red-eyed Tree Frog, and transcripts of Bishop's and Cowley's Boston Globe-Horn Book Award acceptance speeches, p. 45; May, 2000, Danielle J. Ford, review of Digging for Bird Dinosaurs, p. 329; July-August, 2004, Danielle J. Ford, review of The Tarantula Scientist, p. 469.

Kirkus Reviews, February 1, 1997, p. 219; August 1, 2002, review of Backyard Detective, p. 1122; January 1, 2004, review of Forest Explorer, p. 34.

School Library Journal, April, 1997, Ruth S. Vose, review of The Secrets of Animal Flight, p. 120; March, 1999, Kathy Piehl, review of Red-eyed Tree Frog, pp. 190-191; May, 1999, Ruth S. Vose, review of The Snake Scientist, pp. 140-141; May, 2000, Patricia Manning, review of Digging for Bird-Dinosaurs, p. 178; October, 2002, Susan Scheps, review of Backyard Detective, p. 140; December, 2002, Ann G. Brouse, review of Looking for Life in the Universe: The Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence, p. 162; March, 2004, Dona Ratterree, review of Forest Explorer, p. 190; May, 2004, Patricia Manning, review of The Tarantula Scientist, p. 172.

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