10 Questions with Rachel Haydon and Pippa Keel


Q1: What were the challenges and opportunities in basing the story around the real penguins at the National Aquarium?

Rachel Haydon: The kororā, or little penguins, at the National Aquarium of New Zealand have an international fan base, so I had to be true to their individual characteristics in the book. The Good and Naughty Penguin of the Month allows the National Aquarium’s physical and virtual visitors to see snapshots of their characters, so the book had to reflect these (such as Mo stealing fish!). The kororā crew that call the National Aquarium home all came to us in different ways, from injuries, starvation and abandonment, so the book was a chance to highlight some of their stories and what these wonderful birds face in the wild.

Pippa Keel: It was a lovely opportunity in that the penguins ARE real — so I got to meet them! I had an amazing time getting to see all of their beautiful and quirky personalities, but at the same time, this did present a challenge, as we needed to be accurate in how we showed their enclosure and the penguins themselves. For example, I couldn’t just draw a plant or insect I liked the look of into their habitat.


Q2: Do you have any thoughts on why we love penguins so much?

RH: Because they are the best! As kororā are the smallest penguin species in the world, people often think of them as ‘cute’ (which they are) and they capture people’s hearts. They each have their own individual characteristics and so each is unique. People identify with these characteristics and maybe see themselves in the penguins. Also, the challenges they face in the wild are many and quite overwhelming, so it brings out our desire to protect them.

PK: They are such lively creatures and have such distinct personalities — plus they are adorable! What’s not to love?!


Q3: What are the issues that kororā face in the wild, and what does the National Aquarium do to help them?

RH: There are numerous issues, from dog attacks (keep your dogs on leads near the coast!) or attacks from other predators like seals or even seabirds; abandonment as chicks when their parents are foraging out at sea and can’t find food; getting hit by boats or even tangled in fishing nets.

The National Aquarium is a rescue and rehabilitation centre for kororā, working closely with stakeholders like the Department of Conservation, veterinarians and Napier Port. Once recovered and ready, those who are healthy are sent back out into the wild. But some are unfortunately not strong enough to return to their natural habitats, so they find a permanent home at the National Aquarium’s Penguin Cove.


Q4: Why are there some penguins who will always be kept at the Aquarium?

RH: Some of the kororā who reside at the National Aquarium would not survive if released to the wild. Individuals like Flip, who lost a flipper after it was tangled in a fishing net, or Martin, who has a permanently dislocated flipper from a predator attack, would likely not survive a predator attack in the wild. Captain, who lost an eye from an injury caused by a predator, or Timmy, who survived a boat strike but has limited movement on land, also have other injuries that would reduce their chance of survival in the wild.

The National Aquarium team can ensure they get the right diet, the right exercise and health checks to ensure they can live their lives well without risking their survival.


Q5: The Naughty and Good Penguin of the Month is a great idea and they have quite an online following. How did it come about?

RH: Our marketing advisor, Flick, and supervisor of birds, Becs, came up with the idea in 2018 as visitors were constantly entertained with the exploits of our kororā. They thought it would be a great idea to share these more widely!


Q6: And, of course, there is the hotly contested Penguin of the Year award. What makes a good penguin of the year?

RH: People seem to equally love the Good and the Naughty penguins — and everyone loves an underdog! You never know what behaviours are going to capture people’s hearts. It’s anyone’s guess from year to year, and it is not always the ‘good’ penguins that get the votes!


Q7: Which of the kororā crew do you identify with and why?

RH: I hate to say it, but Mo. I’m a bit cheeky and will try to get away with whatever I can! But I can also be Captain, I like to help out and support others — a bit of a mix.

PK: I really love Pepper, as she’s such a sweetheart, but in all honesty I’m probably more of a Mo — I’m not great at sharing food!


Q8: What did you find most enjoyable about working on this book?

RH: Honestly — all of it. Just thinking of a story that would illustrate the work we do and also highlight all the little penguins as the individuals they are. Watching Pippa bring them to life in her illustrations was fascinating. It was incredible to watch the progress as she got so much emotion in their features!

PK: Getting to immerse myself into the lives of the crew that live at the Aquarium was so much fun. I really enjoyed diving into researching them, which involved looking up who had been the Naughty or Good Penguin of the month and why, or even Penguin of the Year. The Aquarium runs a really entertaining Facebook page and it was so cool to look through it for inspiration.


Q9: Were there any particular challenges around illustrating the book?

PK: Captain was a sneaky challenge, as we had a few spreads where I re-arranged the layout, making his missing eye on the wrong side! Oops! Luckily Rachel’s daughter spotted the pages.


Q10: Who is your favourite penguin?

RH: I really love Dora’s attitude — she takes no prisoners! She’s not afraid to be who she is and keep all the keepers and visitors in check. Her sass and spirit inspire me! Kororā are tenacious and determined, and we must be do our best to inspire our visitors to help us to help them tackle all the issues they face in the wild.

PK: When I was visiting, Pepper stole my heart as she was SO lovely and well-behaved with all the penguins, and you could tell the whole crew loves her!