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Three children have climbed a farm gate and look wistfully into the distance, all elbows and knees. We see them from behind. Illustrations of books surround them.
Lots of kids, especially in Tāmaki Makaurau, have been home since August (Photo: Cavan Images via Getty; Design: Tina Tiller)

BooksFebruary 3, 2022

The Unity Books children’s bestseller chart for the month of January

Three children have climbed a farm gate and look wistfully into the distance, all elbows and knees. We see them from behind. Illustrations of books surround them.
Lots of kids, especially in Tāmaki Makaurau, have been home since August (Photo: Cavan Images via Getty; Design: Tina Tiller)

What’s the best way to get adults reading? Get them reading when they’re children – and there’s no better place to start than Unity’s top-selling kids’ books.


1  Daughter of the Deep by Rick Riordan (Puffin, $26, Young Adult)

Via “Ana Dakkar is a freshman at Harding-Pencroft Academy, a five-year high school that graduates the best marine scientists, naval warriors, navigators, and underwater explorers in the world. Ana’s parents died while on a scientific expedition two years ago, and the only family she’s got left is her older brother, Dev, also a student at HP. Ana’s freshman year culminates with the class’s weekend trial at sea, the details of which have been kept secret. She only hopes she has what it’ll take to succeed…”

Sleepy Kiwi by Kat Quin (Tikitibu, $20, all ages)

The ideal board book: stylish (clean, appealing graphic design) yet pragmatic (it’s all in black and white, which is super fascinating for tiny brains).

Big Ideas for Curious Minds: An Introduction to Philosophy by Alain de Botton and Anna Doherty (Affirm Press, $40, 8+)

Super fascinating for bigger brains.

4  Little People, Big Dreams Treasury: 50 Stories by Maria Vegara Sanchez (Frances Lincoln, $50, 6-12)

You’ve probably come across the Little People, Big Dreams series in some form – they’ve been incredibly popular, spinning off into board books, card games, paper dolls, gift sets and hardbacks. This is a new compendium, bundling up the stories of 50 favourite “dreamers” including (deep breath) Frida Kahlo, Coco Chanel, Maya Angelou, Amelia Earhart, David Attenborough, Greta Thunberg, Elton John, John Lennon, Malala Yousafzai, Mindy Kaling, and Prince. All rewritten for a slightly older audience.

Atua: Māori Gods & Heroes by Gavin Bishop (Puffin, $40, all ages)

I thought this majestic hardback had this year’s Margaret Mahy prize on lock, but then Huia dropped wildly good picture book The Eight Gifts of Te Wheke. It’s written by Steph Matuku, illustrated by Laya Mutton-Rogers, and it’s a delightfully creepy story about an octopus stealing away a little girl. The illustrations are just out of the park.

I’ll write about Te Wheke at length another time, but for now, I think Atua and Te Wheke will be tussling on the podium – and that big old octopus just might win.

6  Dragon Skin by Karen Foxlee (Allen & Unwin, $23, 8-12)

From the Aussie author of Lenny’s Book of Everything, which won so many prizes the later editions look like a fancy bottle of wine – absolutely covered in gold and silver stickers. This latest is “a magical tale about a girl who saves a dragon and rescues her family”.

7  A Winter’s Promise #1 Mirror Visitor Quartet by Christelle Dabos (Text Publishing, $26, 13+)

A runaway success in France, where it was first published. Lots of Goodreads reviewers were into the worldbuilding (the world has splintered into floating chunks of earth called Arks) but not so much the worldview. “I kept encountering more and more problems,” wrote Aprilius Maximus. “For example, on page 49, ‘A nanny pushed a pram while blushing at the admiring whistles of workmen up scaffolding.'”

Other reviews note that a woman gets called a slut for having sex, that there’s stuff about “deflowering”, and a passage where the main character’s uncle tells her it’d be best to sleep with her husband (she was forced into the marriage). “I advise you never to set your will against that of your husband. You’ll end up with broken bones.”

8  I Want My Hat Back by Jon Klassen (Walker Books, $17, 1-3)

Might we also recommend Klassen’s The Rock From the Sky, the funniest picture book – perhaps book, full stop – we’ve read in years.

9  My First Pop-Up Dinosaurs by Owen Davey (Walker Books, $23, 2-4)

For kids on the two end of that age range you’re going to want to watch like a hawk. The 25 pop-ups are extremely grabbable and include a lovely bobbly ankylosaur, a rahh-ing tyrannosaur and a brachiosaur that’s just begging to have its neck ripped in half.

10 Where Is Everyone? by Tom Schamp (Prestel Verlag, $30, 0-2)

Board book with lift-up flaps. The publisher promises: “As kids pore over these brightly colored and highly detailed pictures they’ll be delighted to discover a monkey on a surfboard and an elephant in a bowler hat— all inhabiting the same shapes they recognise in their homes.”


The Boy, the Mole, the Fox and the Horse by Charles Mackesy (Ebury Press, $40, all ages)


2  The Adventures of Mittens: Wellington’s Famous Purr-sonality by Silvio Bruinsma, illustrated by Phoebe Morris (Penguin, $20, 3+)


3  They Both Die at the End: Collector’s Edition by Adam Silvera (Simon & Schuster, $25, 13+)

They really do, by the way.

A Good Girl’s Guide to Murder by Holly Jackson (Hardie Grant, $23, 14+)

Via Kirkus: “Jackson’s debut is well-executed and surprises readers with a connective web of interesting characters and motives … A treat for mystery readers who enjoy being kept in suspense.”

5  Treasure in the Lake by Jason Pamment (Allen & Unwin, 10+)

A gorgeous-looking graphic novel in which two girls exploring a riverbed discover a hidden city. Reviewers used words like “enchanting” and “rollicking” and “inspiring”.

6  Six of Crows by Leigh Bardugo (Hodder, $20, 13+)

Wildly popular circa 2015 fantasy series about a gang of thieves. Also, now, a Netflix show.

7  Big Shot #16 Diary of a Wimpy Kid by Jeff Kinney (Puffin, $18, 6+)

High literature compared to Pokemon handbooks and the godawful Geronimo Stilton series, which is what our school holidays consisted of.

8  Uprising: The Mapmakers in Cruxcia by Eirlys Hunter (Gecko Press, $23, 9+)

Yay! Adored this book, and its prequel The Mapmakers’ Race. We recently published an essay by Hunter, full of gems about how to pick good books for kids, eg:

“Choose books with images you like and texts that make you smile. This is even more important with toddlers, because if a toddler takes to a book you could end up reading it hundreds of times.”

She was not exaggerating.

9  Kuwi & Friends: Māori Picture Dictionary by Kat Quin & Pania Papa (Illustrated Publishing, $35, all ages)

One of the clutch of books that made us curious about product placement (Red Band gummies, of all things) in picture books.

10  Atua: Māori Gods & Heroes by Gavin Bishop (Puffin, $40, all ages)


Keep going!