The man who was responsible for penning the images that brought many well-known Maori legends to life has died.

Peter Gossage, 69, died on the weekend after an undisclosed illness.

While the name of the author and illustrator, who's described by those who knew him as "fairly private", might not ring any bells...his colourful depictions of well-known Maori folklore remain a common feature of many a children's bookshelf, library and school.

Among the more than 20 titles he's penned are tales of the much-loved trickster, Maui, such as the story of How Maui slowed the sun, How Maui found his mother and How Maui found his father and the magic jawbone.


Penguin Random House New Zealand, publishing director, Debra Millar, said a relative had informed her of his passing.

Peter Gossage. Photo / Ross Land.
Peter Gossage. Photo / Ross Land.

She said Gossage would be remembered for his "very distinctive graphic and illustration style which really brought to life the Maori legends".

"He was just so wonderful a storyteller and his stories were very simple, but they were extremely well-crafted."

She said the company had published 12 of his books - 10 of which it still had in print.

"His stories have sold many thousands of copies," she said. "They are classics in New Zealand's children literature. There won't be many classrooms or school libraries without one of his books."

Maori Books for Canvas. Written by Peter Gossage. Photo / Greg Bowker
Maori Books for Canvas. Written by Peter Gossage. Photo / Greg Bowker

The also company paid a public tribute on its Facebook page to the "beloved children's author".

"Peter was a master of retelling important Maori myths and his deceptively simply storytelling and distinctive illustration style is enjoyed by adults and children alike."

His distinctive use of strong lines and bold colour were synonymous with his range of works and has been credited for transforming the typically verbal telling of the tales into a visual feast.

Gossage, born October 22, 1946 in the Auckland suburb of Remuera, began his career at an advertising agency not long after leaving school.


His rise to notoriety as a children's author began when his work producing Maori motifs for a television commercial was noticed by a publisher.

Gossage's first book, published in 1975, How Maui found his mother, was the beginning of his series of illustrated children's books that quickly became a mainstay of many a child's reading list.

Other well-known titles include, Fish of Maui, How Maui found the secret of fire and Battle of the Mountains.

Penguin Random House New Zealand has also planned to release a hardcover edition including eight of his most well-known works in October this year.