Wolfe, Richard

Wolfe, Richard



In Brief

Richard Wolfe is a writer for adults and children, and a freelance curator of exhibitions. With his wife, artist Pamela Wolfe, he has published three picture books for children. He was a finalist in the New Zealand Post Children's Book Awards in 1998 and 2000. Wolfe's books and articles for adults document aspects of New Zealand's art, history and popular culture.


Wolfe, Richard (1948 - ) is a writer for adults and children, and a freelance curator of exhibitions.

With his wife, artist Pamela Wolfe, Richard Wolfe has published three picture books for children. Midnight at the Museum (1998), a finalist in the New Zealand Post Children's Book Awards, draws on his years of experience working as a display artist and curator at Canterbury and Auckland museums.

Midnight at the Museum (1997) 'is destined to become one of the classic children's books like Maurice Sendak's The Night Kitchen,' writes the National Business Review. Two further picture books, Mouse Opera (1999) and Mouse Hotel (2000), take a rodents-eye view of two very human activities.

Midnight at the Museum
and Mouse Opera were finalists in the New Zealand Post Children’s Book Awards 1998 and 2000 respectively. Mouse Opera was also included in 'The White Ravens 2001: A Selection of International Children’s and Youth Literature exhibited at the Bologna Children’s Book Fair, 2001' by the Internationale Jugend Bibliothek, Munchen.

Walter's Planets (2001) is the story of a boy who sees something very strange in outer space. Could it be a new planet?

Dylan Owen in the Dominion describes Walter’s Planet as 'a celebration of Kiwi ingenuity, invention and technological triumph, and there’s not a computer in sight... [t]he balanced and strain-free rhyme purrs along'.

Wolfe's books for adults document aspects of New Zealand's art, history and popular culture. He has written dozens of articles for journals and newspapers on subjects ranging from the art of New Zealand's early tourist trade to the lithographs of Tony Fomison.

'Wolfe writes consistently engaged and engaging prose,' writes Gregory O'Brien in New Zealand Books. 'He has a great eye for detail and a sleuth-like ability for tracking [it]... valuable, warm-spirited and enjoyable.'

Richard Wolfe's titles are Well Made New Zealand: A Century of Trademarks (1987); New Zealand! New Zealand! In Praise of Kiwiana (Co-author Stephen Barnett, 1989); Kiwi: More than a Bird (1991); At the Beach: The Great New Zealand Holiday (Co-author Stephen Barnett, 1993); All Our Own Work: New Zealand’s Folk Art (1997); Remember When Our New Zealand 1900 to 1999 (1999); Kiwiana! The Sequel (Co-author Stephen Barnett, 2001); In My Day: Looking at New Zealand’s Past (2001); Classic Kiwiana: An Essential Guide to New Zealand Popular Culture (Co-author Stephen Barnett, 2001); The Way We Wore: The Clothes New Zealanders Have Loved (2001). Moa: The Dramatic Story of the Discovery of a Giant Bird (2003), Mouse on the Moon (Co-author Pamela Wolfe, 2003), Hell-hole of the Pacific (Penguin, 2005) is Wolfe's latest novel for young adults. Fronting Up is a survey of more than 100 classic New Zealand magazines. Battlers, Bluffers & Bully Boys is a reference book that provides a brief description of each New Zealand Prime Minister, Crikey!: Talk About Kiwiana (Random House, 2009), is an illustrated collection that documents the stories behind the objects, events and people that have defined and distinguished popular culture in New Zealand.

His book Mitchell & Mitchell: A father and son arts legacy (Potton & Burton, 2018, co-authors Peter Alsop and Anna Reed), looks into the artistic legacy of father and son Leonard C. Mitchell and Leonard V. Mitchell.

Railways Studios: How a Government Design Studio Helped Build New Zealand: 2020 (Te Papa Press, 2020, co-authors Peter Alsop, Neill Atkinson, Katherine Milburn) is a definitive illustrated history of the graphic work of the Railways Studios.

Footprints on the Land: How Humans Changed New Zealand (Oratia Media, 2022) explores how and why settlers have impacted on nature and what this means for our future.

Richard and Pamela Wolfe visit schools together as part of the Book Council's Writers in Schools programme.


KAPAI : Kids Authors Pictures and Information

Where do you live?
Freemans Bay, Auckland

What sort of books do you like to read?

Pamela – I have many favourites. I enjoyed Elizabeth Knox and various writers’ from the Bloomsbury Group. I probably don’t have one particular favourite.
Richard – Robert Hughes, Greil Marcus, Peter Guralnick, Michael King.

Where do you get your ideas?

Richard – My ideas are based on personal experience, observations and humour.
Pamela – I get ideas from humorous situations, observations of things around me, people and animals, and personal experience.

What is the best thing about being an author?
Richard – The satisfaction of achieving a goal. Doing something you love and seeing it through.

Some Questions for Primary School Students

Do you have any pets?
We used to have an old beagle called Asterix, but he died a few years ago at the grand age of 15. He was a great friend and we miss him a lot.

What is your favourite colour?
Pamela – All colours, especially shades of blue.
Richard – Red.

Do you have a favourite food?
Pamela – Anything Italian.
Richard – Italian food.

Do you have a favourite movie?
Pamela – Carrington
Richard – Don’t Look Back

What is the most fun thing about being an author?
Being able to do what you love and come naturally.

How do you make books?
The manuscript comes first. Then Pamela does a storyboard. When the publisher approves the storyboard Pamela does the final full colour illustrations – this takes about 4-5 months. This manuscript gets sent to the printer in Singapore or Hong Kong.

Where do you like to spend your holidays?
We stay with friends in the Hokianga over the summer. We visit our daughter in London each year in the winter.

What was the naughtiest thing you ever did at school?
Richard - I enjoyed playing practical jokes on the teachers. I was a bit of a class clown – having fun with words and it sometimes got me into trouble.

Some questions for Secondary School Students

How did you get started?
We began thinking about doing a book together about 25 years ago, when our daughter was little, but it took us until she had left home before we got around to it. Richard always said that he needed a good idea and it took that long for him to come up with one.

Did any one inspire you when you were starting out?
Maurice Sendak’s book Where the Wild Things Are, we particularly loved his illustrations.

What advice would you give an aspiring young writer?
Never give up.

It is hard to make a living as a writer in New Zealand?
It is possible to make a modest living, but the main reason for doing it is the tremendous satisfaction.

What were you like as a teenager?
Richard – I was hardworking at school, and enjoyed music and reading in my spare time.
Pamela – I enjoyed ballet, theatre and doing art. I was very sociable and loved sewing my own clothes and listening to Beatles’ records.

Updated January 2017.