An utterly charming selection of stories about two unlikely friends.

NZ Herald on Sunday

Snake and Lizard


In Joy Cowley’s warm and funny story, two very different creatures learn about the give-and-take
nature of friendship. With illustrations by Gavin Bishop.

See the interactive video here:

Read the first chapter here


  • Description

    Snake and Lizard are a lovable, foolish pair. They are always arguing, embarking on unlikely enterprises and telling one another hotly contested tales. But none of this behaviour lessens their affection for one another.

    The judges of the NZ Post Children’s and Young Adult Book Awards said: “This timeless look at two feisty (and forgiving) best mates utterly beguiled the judges with its assured writing, sharp humour and gentle, unforced observations on the nature of friendship.”

    The International Youth Library has also awarded this book with a White Raven, a prize given to 250 notable children’s books published internationally each year.

  • Book Details

    Country of Origin New Zealand
    Reader Age 5-7 year, 6-8 year, 8-12 year
    Book Size

  • Reviews

    1. Page and Blackmore Booksellers (NZ), January 2015

      Moral messages well hidden under a bit of mischief

    2. Whangarei Leader, June 2009

      Joy Cowley teamed up with Gavin Bishop to write this lovable tale about a sparing pair who tell each other all sorts of tales – all told in a most affectionate way. This is a short chapter book ideal for those who are getting into reading longer stories. Characters are very different but they get along and it is the point of difference that makes life interesting.

    3. Latitude, Feb/Mar 2011

      The combination of Joy Cowley and Gavin Bishop have produced a gem in Snake and Lizard; a series of incidents between two very different friends. The charm of the book emanates from the simple, but clever, observational language, the warm humour and the subtle and character-enhancing illustrations. It is a wonderful read for both adult and child alike.

    4. Bob Graham

      Snake and Lizard share a house and also a friendship which is sometimes as rocky as the desert they live in. With a little patience, wisdom and much tolerance their friendship survives their essential differences – that one has a lovely long tail and the other has legs. I love them and their little ways. We need stories like this.

    5. Flaxmere Primary

      Totally successful with a wide range of students. I am reading it aloud it in my position as teacher/librarian, and it is enormously popular. It lends itself to dramatising, using verbal characterisation and the children love it.

    6. Sunday Star Times, 6 December 2008

      Great in ’08 feature Best Young Reader book, Sunday Star Times.
      The very wonderful Joy Cowley created a beautiful and tender friendship in the award-winning Snake and Lizard, a thoughtful and funny account of an unusual alliance. Accompanied by Gavin Bishop’s delicate illustrations, this is a book to be loved by children and adults alike.

    7. US School Library Journal Starred Review, December 2008

      This engaging chapter book… tells of the humorous exploits of Snake and Lizard. They meet, quarrel, become friends, and then quarrel again; their delightful antics touchingly reveal the normal travails of an active friendship. The short chapters also impart bits of wisdom: it is good to share, and friends can like different things. In one particularly funny vignette, Snake is eating a frog when Lizard, who thinks that Snake is choking, slaps her on the back, and, of course, allows the frog to escape. Another entertaining story describes how the two friends each set up a business, and then trade the same dime back and forth buying corn cakes and cactus juice from one another. The charming illustrations are suffused with warm desert colors, and the evocative landscapes enhance the brief adventures. One endearing picture shows the red, black, and white striped snake and tan-colored lizard lying facing one another, their features expressively genial, as they ‘talked and talked as though they’d known each other for years.’ Lovely bookmaking includes small pictures interspersed with the large, bold font, some to the side of a decorative letter that begins the text of a chapter. A creamy white page with only a tiny picture of a primary story element precedes each chapter, and many of the creatures that inhabit the stories appear on the inside front and back cover pages. A great read-aloud.

    8. Elizabeth Bird, US School Library Journal, August 2008

      …A collection of small, sweet little tales this

      book is a series of bedtime stories ideal for the literary

      child. A beautiful little package in and of itself, don’t be

      surprised when you find that the author manages to work

      quite a lot of humor out of the food chain…all the stops had been pulled out and Bishop’s

      illustrations were rendered here in vibrant full color.

      Using a desert palette of bright reds, soft umbers, and

      sandy browns, Bishop’s watercolors pop off the page. Each

      two-page spread has at least one and sometimes two of these

      little jolts of hue and the endpapers (an amalgamation of

      different animal and insect characters that appear in these

      stories) are practically worth the price of the book alone.

      Read all of this review of the US edition at US School Library Journal

    9. Christchurch and Dunedin Family Times, Winter 2008

      Two unlikely creatures become good friends, having arguments, sharing stories, doing things together – things that all good friends do. Their differences are obvious in many ways. But they overcome these and learn to live together. A story to share and to dip into for some warm fuzzies and laughs.

    10. New Zealand Books, Winter 2008

      Snake and Lizard is Gecko Press’s first New Zealand written and illustrated book. Once again it’s an elegant, silky hardback – a book that can be neatly
      cradled in one hand. Author Joy Cowley’s dedication states that ‘friendship is not made out of sameness but the accommodation of differences’, which is
      clearly the theme of this collection of short stories.
      It begins with an argument between Snake and Lizard over where exactly a snakes’s body ends and its tail begins. The two quickly become friends although they argue over everything. There’s a debate over eating habits: swallowing whole versus chewing and dribbling. They move in together and have to learn to get along, apology by apology. The characters are most interesting when dealing with the other desert creatures. Snake and Lizard set up a ‘counselling’ service but their advice creates a few problems. There are minor inconsistencies – the animals know about money but don’t understand cars.
      These are really parables with a moral, and, like Aesop’s Fables, they are more concerned with common sense then high ideals. The main message is that
      friends can argue and still remain friends. A few threads link the stories, but there is no overall narrative drive or satisfying ending. Still, the tales are well-packaged for a short bedtime read aloud. Gavin Bishop provides the intense illustrations. His choice of golds, warm blues and black reflects the stark American desert setting. Bishop’s animal characters have just the right balance of biological realism and ‘human’ expression for this age group.
      Cowley is adept at using dialogue to woo the newly independent reader along.

    11. TV3

      ‘I was very much enamoured of the desert and the creatures I saw there, and when I came back I wanted to write about these two characters, Snake and Lizard,’ [Joy Cowley] told NZPA.

      There was a tradition in literature of ‘unalike friends’ making adjustments to each other – such as Mole and Ratty in The Wind in the Willows – and this was another.

      ‘But it’s shamelessly anthropomorphic, it’s really about two people and those two people happen to be my husband Terry and I,’ she said.
      Read the TV3 article

    12. CMIS Evaluation

      This witty and beautifully crafted collection of short stories about Snake and Lizard’s surprising friendship will beguile and amuse children and adults alike. Snake and Lizard live in the desert and their friendship begins with an argument that ends in compromise, which is a common thread throughout the stories. Children will laugh at the silliness of the situations and at the exchange of banter. At the same time, they will learn about the give-and-take of true friendship. Perfect for reading aloud, the text provides excellent examples of word play, alliteration and descriptive language. Bishop’s fine pen-and-ink watercolour illustrations add to the humour, depict the arid environment and combined with the text make this a not-to-be-missed book. Highly recommended.

      Go to full CMIS Evaluation

    13. Catriona Ferguson, Sunday Star-Times, 1st June 2008

      ‘The publisher did a beautiful job of putting the book together. The whole concept of design is different.’

      As the judges have pointed out, the production values of books in New Zealand don’t always do justice to the works being published. But Snake and Lizard’s beautiful packaging is down to the inspirational publishing from relative newcomer, Gecko Press, based in Wellington. With Gavin Bishop’s meticulous and subtle images, high quality paper and elegant dust jacket, Gecko have produced a book with the highest of standards.

    14. John McIntyre in conversation with Kathryn Ryan, Nine To Noon, 23 May 2008

      ‘With Joy [Cowley] and Gavin [Bishop] you’ve got two hugely experienced people who are at the top of their craft….Each little fable is about the pleasures of accommodating differences rather than the tensions they create. As allegories they … work equally [well] for adults as … for children….The production standards that have been used in this book … elevate it out of the category of a book you want to read to a book you want to hold as well….What’s exceptional for a small press is that [Julia Marshall has] invested heavily in production standards… [to produce] a real team effort’.

    15. Nicky Pellegrino, NZ Herald on Sunday, 25 May 2008

      Cowley’s award-winning book, with its beautiful illustrations by Gavin Bishop, has the feel of a classic tale that will be read by children for generations.
      ‘Throughout children’s fiction there are friends who have to find a way to friendship through their differences,’ says Cowley, ‘like Winnie the Pooh and Piglet or Mole and Ratty in Wind in the Willows.
      So it seems like Snake and Lizard are in good company.

    16. Karen Wrigglesworth, Daily Chronicle, 7th March 2008

      Snake and Lizard, a finalist in the New Zealand Post Book awards 2008, is a wonderful book for a special friend, or to read aloud to your children. It is equally beautiful to hold and flick through as it is to actually read.

    17. Karen Wrigglesworth, Wanganui Chronicle, 29 March 2008

      Snake and Lizard is a gorgeous little book. The stories and layout have been prepared with great care and skill, and the classic, uncluttered ink drawings by Gavin Bishop (of The House That Jack Built) complement both the story and the book’s overall quality.
      Joy Cowley is a New Zealand author who has written successfully over many years. She has received numerous awards for her work, including the Margaret Mahy Medal, and the NZ Post Children’s Book Award 2006.
      Snake and Lizard is one of those rare books able to reach an ageless audience. The stories read like modern fables – straightforward tales, but with layers of meaning if you want to go looking for it.
      The characters – Snake and Lizard – are reflections of ourselves in all our humanity. They are lovable, foolish, vain, selfish, apologetic, and secretive. Snake is the (generally) calm one, who likes her comforts.
      Like Margaret Mahy, Cowley has lifted her characters entirely out of the New Zealand context.

      The setting of Snake and Lizard is very definitely ‘desert’ – probably somewhere around the southern USA or into Mexico.
      In my view, this doesn’t affect its success at all. I think we can be a little precious about New Zealand at times.
      There is a place for writing about things not of this country just as there is a place for writing about what is.
      And when a book works as well as Snake and Lizard, it is always going to reflect well on its country of origin, regardless of how much alike they may or may not be. I loved the gentle humour throughout this book. Cowley chooses her words with great care and uses them sparingly. The message gets through without labour or ‘overdoneness’.
      This is a great skill indeed.
      Snake and Lizard, a finalist in the New Zealand Post Book awards, 2008, is a wonderful book for a special friend, or to read aloud to your children. It is equally beautiful to hold and flick through as it is to actually read.

    18. Whitcoulls Imagination Supplies, December 2007

      These wise little stories, delightfully funny characters and gorgeous illustrations will utterly charm both children and the adults who read them.

    19. The TV Guide, December 2007

      Snake and Lizard are quite different. Snake is self-contained and a little timid while Lizard is adventurous and enthusiastic, but they learn to accept each other and become good companions. These charming short stories are cameos of friendship and Gavin Bishop’s illustrations make the whole book a delight. Eight to ten year olds will read these alone but younger children will enjoy them as well.

    20. Animals’ Voice, Summer 2007-08

      Two very different creatures learn about the give-and-take of friendship in these warm, funny stories in a book enhanced by illustrations that have a classic feel to them. Snake is elegant, calm, a little self-centred. Lizard is exuberant and irresistible. Joy Cowley is one of New Zealand’s most loved writers while illustrator Gavin Bishop has exhibited internationally.

    21. NZ Herald on Sunday ‘Detours’, November 2007

      Written for the emerging reader by the always-delightful Joy Cowley, and whimsically illustrated by Gavin Bishop, it’s an utterly charming selection of stories about two unlikely friends.

    22. Magpies, Trevor Agnew, October 2007

      While this book may look like a novel it is actually a collection of elegant and witty stories about an unlikely pair of friends, the eponymous Snake and Lizard. they argue as soon as they meet; a practice that continues throughout their unusual friendship. Their characters are nicely developed and readers will enjoy the way that Cowley makes them feel slightly wiser than the two odd reptiles. When the pair find a ten cent coin, they both open shops and take turns selling each other cactus juice and corn cakes – always exchanging the same coin.

      Sometimes there is delightful word-play. When Snake has a ‘frog in [her] throat’ that’s [her] lunch. Cowley makes no effort to disguise the hard life of the desert. When Lizard is talking to a mouse, Snake is watching. ‘Before she could stop herself her jaw dropped open to the size of the mouse… What a sweet little mouse. How plump! How perfect!’ Young readers will enjoy the dark humour as Skunk tries to cross the River of Death (a busy highway) or when Lizard mourns the day his little brother – a sweet little guy – went missing. Snake is embarrassed. ”Lizard was right’, she reflects, ‘The little guy had been real sweet.”
      Gavin Bishop’s colour illustrations are a superb compliment to a superb text: elegant pen and water colour sketches of desert creatures, cacti, insects and arid landscapes.
      These stories are ideal for reading aloud.

    23. Marlborough Express, New Zealand, October 2007

      This book of lovely stories has a great feel to it as it celebrates friendship. It illustrates beautifully how being different can enhance friendship without having to preach to the reader or resort to condescension.
      These Stories can be enjoyed at more than one level.
      On one level there’s the funny, cute stories about two squabbling friends and then there’s the friendship theme where virtues such as wisdom and tolerance help save the day (and friendship).
      Snake and Lizard is a great book.

    24. Kate De Goldi to Kim Hill, National Radio New Zealand, September 2007

      Kate: ‘A pairing made in heaven may I say … is [the] first NZ author’s that Julia has done in this imprint. First of all it’s an exquisite production. It’s the most beautiful little square format book. It’s a series of chapter stories about Snake & Lizard in the desert, which sort of was a surprise for me in a way, but of course where else would they be.
      … And it’s the perfect pairing because Joy Cowley just absolutely has the right pitch. I mean she’s masterly in this form. The length of the stories – there’s not a word out of place. They’re a little bit like. they’re in the tradition, in a way, of Aesop’s fables but they’re much funnier and a little bit more unexpected. So Snake is a little bit languid, and elegant and a little bit self-satisfied and Lizard is (giggles) he’s sort of like Toad or Tigger or something. He’s really busy and they just exchange various theories about the world and the world around them. And they get annoyed with each other and .’
      Kim: ‘The attraction of opposites.’

    25. Wairarapa Times-Age, Carterton School, September 2007

      … Each section of this book is a short story about Snake and Lizard and it reminded us about how we should get on with others. This book was funny and entertaining to listen to. We liked hearing the story being read aloud.
      What we like:
      We liked that they are friends and that they have funny times together.
      We liked the pictures as they are drawn with lovely warm colours.
      What we dislike:
      We didn’t like it when they argued and did not listen to their own advice about manners and getting on with others.
      Room 11 really liked this book and we think that other children should read it. Overall rating: Excellent and funny.

    26. Talespinner, September 2007

      This is a beautifully presented book of very short tales in which unlikely friends, snake and lizard, ponder the major problems of life, and very occasionally galvanise themselves into action. Gavin Bishop’s animated and colourful pictures on the cover and throughout the book both illustrate and decorate, and Joy Cowley’s mini-fables are superb. With their lively dialogue and subtle humour, they will make wonderful read-alouds. Children will smile at the animals’ naivety and will recognise the skills of maintaining such a strange friendship: how to compromise and accommodate each other’s differences, how not to help a friend, and importantly, when to keep a secret. Recommended for all ages.

    27. Family Times, September 2007

      This is a great read-aloud book that’ll demand many encores! Two very different creatures learn about the give and take of friendship in these warm and funny stories set in the desert. The stories are beautifully illustrated in warm and clear colours of the desert.

    28. National Library online, Create Readers, August 2007

      Everything about Snake and Lizard is elegant: the writing, the illustrations, the message, the feel. Gecko Press have a history of producing stylish books and this is yet another – their first publication of a New Zealand book.
      Written by Joy Cowley with illustrations by Gavin Bishop, the story is rather a series of (ideal read aloud) stories featuring an inseparable, argumentative (as only true friends can be) pair of friends – snake and lizard. Suitable for children from Year 3 . Adults will love it too

    29. Magpies, Helen Purdie, September 2007

      You know a book’s a winner when boys aged five to eight won’t let YOU go to bed until you have finished reading the whole book to them. This delightful chapter book, set in a North American desert, tells of an unlikely pair of friends – a snake and a lizard – and their daily adventures after they have moved in together. Often foolish, very naive, and extremely competitive, the pair bicker affectionately as they go into business, become counsellors to other wildlife, hunt for food and narrowly escape danger.
      Gavin Bishop’s illustrations enhance the tales considerably. In muted desert tones they echo the action but also give young readers a vivid picture of desert communities. Humans impinge only rarely, although their presence is hinted at by the pickup truck that often decorates the initial letter of each chapter.
      The often-pointless but very funny arguments that dominate the book are typical of the book’s sly humour, and are part of the book’s appeal, as children recognise petty disputes they have had with their friends and siblings. … Joy Cowley never condescends and the language is lyrical. The humour is subtle and life’s lessons are delivered gently, without moralising, often illustrating that compromise is a good basis for friendship. If you have happy memories of Arnold Lobel’s Frog and Toad are Friends, this is the book for you.

    30. Australian Women’s Weekly, Tessa Duder, August 2007

      For its first New Zealand book, this enterprising Wellington publisher brings together two of the great names – and it’s wonderful to see fine storytelling and artwork matched by unusually elegant book design.

    31. Pet Magazine, August 2007

      Two animals that constantly compete with one another – despite being best friends.

    32. Rangitikei Monitor, August 2007

      A series of short stories about two unlikely friends… foolish, full of character, always arguing and telling each other tall stories. It will be enjoyed by parents … and children.

    33. Around the Bookshops, August 2007

      Lizard and Snake who live in the desert seem and unlikely pair of friends with their contrasting styles of elegance and calm opposed to exuberance and non-stop irrepressibility. However, it may be their very differences that draw them together and make for such a charming collection of stories to read aloud – or to discover on the reader’s own part.

    34. The Age, Melbourne, August 2007

      Snake and Lizard are ‘The Odd Couple’ of the reptile world. The moment they meet, they argue about which of them deserves the best sunning spot. Over time, and despite their disagreements, the pair begins to enjoy each other’s company. They chat by the river, swap culinary stories (Lizard loves crunchy fried flies, Snake prefers eggs… whole), they even move in together. Part fable, part new-age ramble, the book, which features a rattlesnake, skunk and beaver, has a distinctly North American feel but that’s a small quibble.

    35. The Women’s Bookshop’s Guide to Good Books, No. 67, July – August 2007

      Gecko Press is winning accolades for translations of international children’s classics. Here’s the publisher’s first completely home-grown book – a real beauty. In this warm, funny story, two very different creatures learn about the give and take of friendship. ‘Parents and teachers will find here excellent material for read-aloud sessions.’ – Dorothy Butler. Written and illustrated by two of New Zealand’s best, it’s great for ages five plus, including those who are getting into chapter books.

    36. The Children’s Bookshop, Wellington, August 2007

      Snake and Lizard are very different creatures who must learn to give and take as their foolish arguments and acts of one-upmanship finally give way to longlasting friendship.
      This warm and funny collection of 15 short fables, written by one of our best-loved authors and well matched by Bishop’s colourful illustrations, will charm readers of all ages. Beautifully produced by Wellington publisher Gecko Press […] it is also an ideal book to read aloud to youngsters aged 5 plus.

  • Reviews

    1. Karen Price

      My primary school reader liked the short nature of the chapters, and would happily read this on her own as it feels quite manageable in these sized chunks to her. Each of the chapters are succinct stories in their own right, but if you read on, they link together and feel whole, as snake and lizard learn more about each other and find ways to get along and help each other. There are some good lessons in here for children (and some adults!) about persevering with relationships and thinking of others while looking out for yourself.

    2. Jo

      These guys are great! They are so endearing and the relationship between the two of them is at times loving, frustrated, aloof or full of helpless giggles – just like two human friends. I’m not ashamed to say I bought this book for my own shelf!

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