Image: Tina Tiller
Image: Tina Tiller

BooksOctober 4, 2022

The Unity Books children’s bestseller chart for September

Image: Tina Tiller
Image: 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.

September has been a time for children’s writing and publishing in Aotearoa. When co-editors of Annual Ink publishing imprint Susan Paris and Kate De Goldi spoke with Kathryn Ryan on RNZ’s Nine to Noon about the literacy crisis and the lack of brave children’s publishing for middle grade readers (aged 9 – 11), some of our children’s writers got offended, as reported on Newsroom.

We’d say it’s possible for there to be brilliant Aotearoa books published, including the delectable chocolate box of literary treasure that is Annual 3, and also have room for more. It’s a fact universally acknowledged in this editorial room that while we enjoy the odd fart up a tree gag we’d eagerly embrace more and braver books for kids (and their adults). You can read Susan Paris’s essay on this subject right here on the Spinoff


1  Big Ideas For Curious Minds: An Introduction to Philosophy by Alain de Botton and Anna Doherty (Affirm Press, $40, 9+)  

Children always have the best questions and often the most interesting answers. This book nurtures that curiosity and introduces schools of philosophical thought to extend on that natural instinct to to ask “but why?” Quite enjoy the tomey feel of this too: it has a dark, almost serious cover with a sense of old-school heft about it.

2  Atua: Maori Gods & Heroes by Gavin Bishop (Penguin, $40, all ages)

We’re pegging this pukapuka down as the children’s book of the year. It was the big winner at this year’s New Zealand Book Awards for Children & Young Adults and for good reason. It is large in format and in scope: sharing the stories of Atua Māori for young and old to get immersed in together. 

3  Maui & Other Legends: 8 Classic Tales of Aotearoa by Peter Gossage (Penguin, $40, 3+) 

Is an Aotearoa bookshelf complete without this book? Not really. Get it now.

4  Spark Hunter by Sonya Wilson (Cuba Press, $25, 9yrs+)

A magical adventure survival story featuring fairies, this celebrated YA novel is set in Fiordland. Here’s the first part of the blurb:

“Nissa Marshall knows that something is hiding deep in the forests of Fiordland National Park – she’s seen their lights in the trees. But what are they, and why does no one else seem to notice them?

When Nissa abandons her school camp to track down the mysterious lights, she finds herself lost in a dangerous wonderland. But she’s not the only one in danger – the bush and the creatures are under threat too – and she wants to help. What can a school kid do where adults have failed, and can she find her way back? In Fiordland, the lost usually stay lost.”

Gripped already? Us too.

5  Noisy Book by Soledad Bravi (Gecko Press, $25, 0-3yrs)

The most fun is when you train your baby to howl like a wolf. “And the wolf goes OOOOOO!”

6  Crane Guy by Sally Sutton illustrations by Sarah Wilkins (Picture Puffin, $20, 2-5yrs)

Get high with Crane Guy! Sally Sutton is a genius. Her punchy explorations of the world of large-scale building and planning (see: Construction; Demolition; Dig, Dump, Roll; Roadwork) are crack for kids. The rhymes are pitch perfect – so good you can sing them. This latest is a let’s spy book that invites little readers to elevate their worldview and survey the world alongside that mysterious guy you can sometimes see up there on a crane. Top idea, and with Sarah Wilkins vivid, stylish illustrations it is a joy to read.

7  Kuwi & Friends Māori Picture Dictionary – English Text and Illustration by Kat Quin, Te Reo Māori Translation by Pānia Papa (Illustrated Publishing, $35, all ages) 

A large format, thorough and user-friendly te reo Māori dictionary for beginners and young readers. The illustrations are vibrant and fun and the breadth of subject matter is brilliant. An essential book for learning at home.

8  My First Pop-Up Dinosaurs by Owen Davy (Walker Books, $23, 4+) 

It’s weird how kids love dinosaurs. Counter-intuitive somehow. Or perhaps totally intuitive given the things are extinct. At any rate this book is a great size for small hands and if they can avoid the temptation of pulling at the popping out bits then it packs a fair punch: that T-Rex is fierce.

9  Counting Creatures by Julia Donaldson illustrations by Sharon King-Chai (Two Hoots, $25, 2+)

Many JD fans will not be used to Julia without Axel. Scheffler that is – Julia Donaldson’s long-time illustrator collaborator on such perennials as The Gruffalo and Room on the Broom. Counting Creatures is pitched at a younger reader and has a lush feel with opulent, fecund illustrations by Sharon King-Chai. On every page there are perfectly placed flaps so that the baby animals, who are the stars of this story, can be discovered by small, exploratory hands.

10  How Do I Feel by Rebekah Lipp & Craig Phillips (Wilding Books, $40, all ages)

This enormous hardcover book (140+ pages) is a dictionary of over 60 emotions and an intention to help children develop their emotional literacy. The book blurb is:

“Join Aroha and her friends as they share how different emotions might feel in the body and how each emotion might be helpful. This emotions dictionary is all about helping children find the words for how they truly feel. Learning to recognise and label our emotions correctly is such an important skill for life.”


1  Atua: Maori Gods & Heroes by Gavin Bishop (Penguin, $40, all ages)

2  Annual #3 edited by Kate De Goldi & Susan Paris (Annual Ink, $45, 9+) 

A luscious, adventurous, miscellany of fun for everyone in the whānau. The third Annual includes a ghost story by Airini Beautrais, a song by Troy Kingi, the beloved spot the similarities segment by Gavin Mouldey, a comic by Ant Sang, and so much more. At over 150 pages this treasure trove of a book is exhilarating from start to finish and is one to keep diving back into as your readers’ tastes change with every age. The Annuals expand what you might consider to be children’s literature in terms of style, format and authors too. Susan Paris’ essay on why Annual exists can be read now, on The Spinoff.

3  Adventures of Mittens: Wellington’s Famous Purr-Sonality by Silvio Bruinsma (Penguin, $20, 3+) 

I think we’ve run out of things to say about this book. Meow.

4  Baddies by Julia Donaldson & Axel Scheffler (Alison Green Books, $28, 4+) 

Witch, ghost and troll are downright terrible, nasty, badass baddies. This is back to familiar JD turf with Axel Scheffler’s idiosyncratic illustrations with their robust ways and smudgey clay-like textures. Children love baddies and this book is an ode to some of the best of them.

5  The Lighthouse Princess by Susan Wardell, illustrated by Rose Northey (Puffin, $18, all ages)

A stunningly beautiful book made right here. One to have and to hold.

6  How Do I Feel? by Rebekah Lipp & Craig Phillips (Tikitibu, $40) all ages

7  Kuwi & Friends Māori Picture Dictionary English Text and Illustration by Kat Quin, Te Reo Māori Translation by Pānia Papa (Illustrated Publishing, $35, all ages)

8  Animalphabet by Julia Donaldson illustrated by Sharon King-Chai (Two Hoots, $20, 4+)

The third entry for the OG JD in this list! Another collab with Sharon King-Chai this gorgeous book is also aimed at young readers. It is essentially an ABC book with sweet peep holes and fold-out flaps. 

9  Unraveller by Frances Hardinge (Macmillan, $30, 12+) 

Hardinge fans have been waiting a long time for this latest novel by the queen of thrillingly dark fantasy. Here’s the blurb:

“In a world where anyone can cast a life-destroying curse, only one person has the power to unravel them.

Kellen does not fully understand his unique gift, but helps those who are cursed, like his friend Nettle who was trapped in the body of a bird for years. She is now Kellen’s constant companion and his closest ally.

But the Unraveller carries a curse himself and, unless he and Nettle can remove it, Kellen is a danger to everything – and everyone – around him…”

We’ll be publishing a review of this one here soon.

10  My Aroha Tree: Poster & Sticker Set by Rebekah Lipp & Craig Phillips (Tikitibu, $30, all ages)  

Another offer from Rebekah Lipp and Craig Phillips (see How Do I Feel?), this one is a poster + sticker package to encourage children to visually map their good times among the less good times. Seems an excellent idea – one we could all do with exploring in these most trying of times.

Keep going!