The Wishbird







Teacher’s Notes

Published by Penguin Books Australia

“I felt as though I were reading “The Wishbird” in 3D glasses, open the book and the world escapes off the page, in gorgeous pictures and in words. It isn’t just the pages that are made of silk, the words themselves seem to be.”

“The Wishbird” opens up a discussion on what it is to be human and how easily we can be convinced that other people aren’t, and how easily our own humanity can be taken or given away. This is a love story – love of words, of music, of dreams, of people, of nature, of colour, of flight.”

Cath Crowley YA author



Photos from the launch and Cath Crowley’s beautiful launch speech.

Imagine a world without music.

Imagine if all the singers and musicians disappeared, never to be seen again. Music is outlawed. Even birds are killed because they sing. And because birds live in forests then the forests all around are burnt to stumps.

Music is an integral part of human existence. Every culture in the world makes music. Without it, the soul dies.

This is at the heart of The Wishbird.

‘It is beautifully illustrated by the author and her gentle, finely spun silken threads of storytelling lead into a fragile, mystical world.’~ The West Australian


‘The Wishbird is a gorgeous change of pace, a lovely children’s fantasy with an oriental setting.~ Dark Matter Fanzine


‘Award-winning Gabrielle Wang has the brilliant ability to write new legends. The Wishbird has the flavour of ancient Chinese tales but with a freshness and beauty that will delight modern Western readers.’~ Good Reading


‘The Wishbird is a magical story of bravery, friendship and music. Verdict: beautiful.’~ Herald Sun


There is not a word out of place in The Wishbird, a sweet, enchanting novel. The Wishbird is a lyrical tale of love and redemption in which ‘music has the power to change the hearts of humans’. The graceful simplicity and rhythm in Gabrielle Wang’s writing lends the novel a quality that is almost musical, reflecting beautifully the themes of the story. The Wishbird is a tender, touching fable; I cannot recommend it highly enough for mid to upper primary students.~ Magpies


The Wishbird may have been written for younger readers in mind (ages seven and up), but it’s really a book for anyone who wants to be gently drawn in and taken away by a true storyteller ~ Fran Atkinson


Gabrielle Wang has written and illustrated a beautiful book which I highly recommend for older primary readers and anyone of any age who enjoys fairy tales. She has created a beautiful fable, wonderfully illustrated by beautiful line drawings which enhance the authentic feel of the story. Populated by magical and heroic characters this is an epic story of Kingdoms won and lost. Wang’s language and imagination create a wondrous world of magic and adventure ~ Readplus (Michael Jorgen)
The Wishbird is a tale of adventure, courage and friendship that will appeal to male and female readers aged eight and up. Gabrielle Wang has drawn on aspects of mythology and fable to tell this poetic story, which is sure to stimulate an interest in the mythology on which it is based. The Wishbird will be a great addition to any bookshelf and is a lovely way to spend a rainy day inside.~ Bookseller and Publisher (Natalie Crawford)


Gabrielle’s latest novel for children, The Wishbird, is a tale of whimsy and allegory set in the mythical past. Oriole’s beloved Wishbird is dying and she must leave the Forest to save him, but in the City of Soulless there is danger everywhere and joys like music and colour are forbidden by the tyranny of the King. The novel is a powerful fable, awash with beautiful imagery and illustrated by Gabrielle herself.~ Books and Arts Daily ABC Radio National

Another magical book from Gabrielle Wang. This is the story of two extraordinary children – one raised by the magical wishbird and the other an orphan in the city of Soulless. I really enjoyed the bravery and compassion of the two main characters Oriole and Boy – they have such good hearts and risk everything to help each other. A perfect book for grade 5 & 6’s, both boys and girls, as it is an adventure story first, with magic entwined throughout.Lamont Books

This was a wonderful book with such intricate and vivid descriptions. From the loveliness of Oriole and her enchanted Forest of Birds to the rotting and desolate City of Soulless. There are some violent and dark moments which help to build the tension and fear not just for Oriole’s quest but for her life. Every page of this enchanting tale gripped me to the very end. The illustrations that Gabrielle personally created for this book are stunning. They helped me visualise sweet Oriole and her plight throughout the story so beautifully.~ Julie Grasso

Award winning author-illustrator Wang takes the reader on a journey of mythical proportions from the Eden-like paradise of the Forest of Birds to the troubled streets of the City of Soulless. This is a modern fantasy fable of two children looking to find their place in the world and combat a great darkness that has corrupted the once happy City of Solace. This is a short novel with manageable language for younger readers. Although suitable for readers as young as 10, this much older reviewer found himself engrossed until the last page.~ Newcastle Herald


The idea for The Wishbird goes way back – to a time before I was born. The year is 1935. My mother is eleven years old, attending Rathdowne Street Primary School in Melbourne.

This is a photo of my mum at Rathdowne Street State School.

Can you pick out which one she is?


One day she finds two books tucked away in a cupboard in her classroom. The books are Undine by Friedrich de la Motte Fouque, a fairytale about a water spirit, who marries a knight to gain a soul. The other is Green Mansions by William Henry Hudson.

Both books are written for adults but the stories so captivate her that they awaken a life long love of books.

As an adult my mother scoured Melbourne for a copy of Green Mansions. Only after years of searching did she finally find it in a second hand bookshop.

I was fourteen when I first read Green Mansions and the story about a forest dwelling girl with a beautiful bird-like voice has haunted me ever since. I did not know,then, that I would be a writer and that one day this book would be the seed for one of my own books.

But what a strange and wondrous thing life is. Something that you think is unimportant can one day grow into a mighty forest.

Below are some of the initial sketches I did while thinking about the story. In a Creative Journaling workshop conducted by YA author Simmone Howell and poet Lisa D’Onofrio I created a story map.

Then, when I was visiting my daughter last year in New York, I used a visual diary to capture some of my first image ideas. Drawing is a great way to discover your story.

As you can see, I’ve drawn Oriole in modern day clothing with a dog. Both these things changed as I wrote the book.


There are many references in China to the oriole bird. It is famed in China for its beautiful appearance and song. The Chinese character consists of li meaning beautiful and niao meaning bird. During the Ming Dynasty the oriole was depicted on the front of the gowns of high-ranking court officials.

There are a few Chinese sayings with the word oriole in them –

ying ge yan wu – literal meaning ‘orioles sing and swallows dart’. True meaning – a scene of peace, peaceful, prosperous.

ying sheng yan yu – literal meaning ‘trill of an oriole, song of a swallow’. True meaning – the sweet delicate voice of a woman.

In the Summer Palace outside Beijing, there is the Oriole Listening Hall because the ancients liked to compare beautiful music to the singing of orioles.

Here is a Chinese children’s song that you might like to learn. It’s called

The Snail and the Orioles.

A’men A’qian yi ke putao shu,

In front by the door there’s an old grape vine,

A’nen A’nen lu de gang faya.

Just sprouting green with its leaves so fine.

Woniu beizhe na zhongzhong de ke ya,

The snail on its back has a hard heavy shell yes,

Yi bu yi bu de wang shang pa.

But up the vine it goes nonetheless.

A’shu a’shang liang zhi huangliniao,

Two little birds sit up in a tree,

A’xi a’xi ha ha zai xiao ta.

And laugh at poor snail haha heeheehee.

Putao chengshu hai zao de hen na,

Those grapes won’t be ripe for a long long time so

Xianzai shang lai gan shenme?

Why climb now? We would like to know!

A’huang a’huang li’er buyao xiao,

Oriole Birds, don’t you laugh at me,

Deng wo pa shang ta jiu chengshouliao.

By the time I get there, ripe they’ll be!

(song translated and adapted by S. Clavey)


The wish bird is a hoopoe bird. I chose this bird not only because it is beautiful and has a regal appearance but also because it appears in many cultures throughout the world and in ancient times.

Here are just a few examples –

*Hoopoe birds were depicted on the walls of tombs and temples in Ancient Egypt as they were considered sacred.

* The Hoopoe featured in Greek mythology. He is the king of the birds in the Ancient Greek comedy The Birds by Aristophanes.

* In Islam, the Hoopoe is associated with King Solomon who spoke with animals, ( in Arabic the Prophet Suleyman ) and he tells him of the Queen of Sheba and her magnificent land. Quran 27:20-28.

* In classical Chinese poetry, the Hoopoe is a celestial messenger often symbolising the coming of spring. It is also considered very lucky.

* In Persia, the hoopoe bird was seen as a symbol of virtue. In The Conference of the Birds, one of the central works of Sufi literature, he is the leader of the birds.

This story is my first fully illustrated novel. I drew the final illustrations in pen and ink on watercolour paper using a sewing magnifying glass to get the fine lines.

I hope you enjoy the journey of The Wishbird.

THE WISHBIRD can be purchased online or from your local Australian bookshop