(Image: Tina Tiller)
(Image: Tina Tiller)

BooksSeptember 7, 2023

The Unity Books children’s book review roundup for September

(Image: Tina Tiller)
(Image: Tina Tiller)

Each month booksellers from Unity Books Auckland and Wellington review a handful of children’s books that will inspire and delight readers of all ages.


Reviews by Una Ryan, Martene McCaffrey, Daniel Devenney, Demi Cox and Roger Christensen, booksellers at Unity Books Auckland.

Any Body: A Comic Compendium of Important Facts and Feelings About our Bodies by Katharina von der Gathen & Anke Kuhl (Ages 7+)

Sex educator Katharina von der Gathen has produced another (also check out Tell Me: What children really want to know about bodies, sex and emotions) relatable compendium of frank and accessible answers to her students’ questions about puberty and the body. The accompanying cartoons by leading children’s book illustrator Anke Kuhl add a playful element that focusses on all our diversity and quirks. It’s never too early for kids to appreciate all their imperfections and to feel at home in one’s body. Previously Katharina and Anke demystified the reproductive antics of the animal kingdom in the superb Do Animals Fall in Love. Any Body is a perfect introduction and celebration of human’s weird and wonderfulness. (Reviewed by Roger

Cub & Brown by Edwina Wyatt, illustrated by Evie Barrow (Ages 5+)

From the talented Edwina Wyatt comes this adorable new junior fiction story. Set over an unforgettable summer holiday in the great outdoors, a young cub scout and a brown-bear cub navigate the beauty of first friendship. Each of the chapters follows the 12 values of Scout Law – loyalty, bravery, kindness, etc. – with an adventure that illustrates that point. The adventures are playful, heartwarming and often hilarious. The gorgeous illustrations from Evie Barrow are sure to make this a classic early chapter book that every reader will cherish. A big tick from me. (Reviewed by Una)

A sneaky peak inside Any Body: A Comic Compendium of Important Facts and Feelings About Our Bodies by Katharina von der Gathen & Anke Kuhl

Too Bright to See by Kyle Lukoff (Ages 10+)

I stumbled across Too Bright to See only recently and it blew me away. A National Book Award finalist and winner of the most enduring award for LGBTQIA+ literature, the Stonewall Book Award, Too Bright to See follows 12-year-old Bug who lives in a haunted house with his mother, and, until recently, his uncle, who has passed away. Life doesn’t feel the same without Uncle Roderick, with whom he could always be himself, although who that is has always been unclear or something he has never questioned until Roderick dies. Spirits come and go in his house, but one presence makes itself known and has a message to pass on to Bug that ultimately shines a light into a future in which he discovers who he is. Too Bright to See is a powerful exploration of grief and gender identity, a read that will resonate with a lot of young readers, as well as old, like myself. Just gorgeous. (Reviewed by Demi)

The Perks of Being a Wallflower by Steven Chbosky (Ages 16+)

Perks is the ultimate coming-of-age story. It’s told through a series of letters by loveable introvert, Charlie, as he navigates his way through making friends, dating, and mental health in the 90s. I first read this book in my early 20s when it did the rounds with my entire friend group. It was interesting to hear the different takeaways each of us had. For me, the line, “we accept the love we think we deserve,” resonated hard. So much so, it became a personal mantra that I carry with me to this day. I’d go as far as to say, this book changed my life. It taught me the power of words and made me want to become a writer. And for that, I’ll be forever grateful. It’s also the only book I’ve read three times. (Reviewed by Daniel)

The illustrated picture books of Carson Ellis (Ages 2+)

Your favourite illustrator’s favourite illustrator, Carson Ellis’ picture books have been providing the escapism I’ve needed during our recent string of chilly evenings. Inspired by folk art and mysticism, Ellis’ style is distinctly warm and whimsical, with a hearty dose of imagination to boot. In Du Iz Tak, charming (and highly sophisticated) bugs communicate in a language of Ellis’ creation, inviting readers into their little world and instilling a sense of wonder towards our own back gardens. My personal top pick, Home, has Ellis guiding us through all the different places (and palaces!) people and creatures call home, whether that be on the moon or at the bottom of the ocean. With the quirky In the Half Room everything is halved, making for a surreal appreciation for what we can’t see. We’re very lucky to be able to share in her unique perspective on the world. (Reviewed by Martene)

And the Unity Books Auckland children’s bestsellers for August:

1 Midnight Adventures of Ruru and Kiwi by Clare Scott, illustrated by Amy Haarhoff (Puffin, $21)
2 Earth Book by Hannah Alice (Allen & Unwin, $25)
3 World’s Worst Monsters by David Walliams, illustrated by Adam Stower (Harper Collins, $27)
4 Sleepy Kiwi by Kat Quin (Tikitibu NZ, $20)
5 Rabbit’s Bad Habits – Rabbit & Bear Series #1 by Julian Gough & Jim Field (Hodder, $15)
6 All the Dogs by Nicola Kent (Walker, $30)
7 Lion in the Meadow by Margaret Mahy, illustrated by Jenny Williams (Hachette, $20)
8 Maui & Other Legends: 8 Classic tales of Aotearoa by Peter Gossage (Penguin, $40)
9 The Story Orchestra: I can Play – Learn 8 Easy Pieces from the Series! by Jessica Courtney-Tickle (Frances Lincoln, $33)
10 My First Lift-the-Flap Nursery Rhymes by Ingela Arrhenius (Nosy Crow, $28)


Reviews by ​​Rachel Pilois and Eden Denyer, booksellers at Unity Books Wellington.

My Self, Your Self by Esmé Shapiro (Ages 2+)

Gah, just look at this!! Isn’t it delightful? We follow a wee sprout creature through wild flowers, fungi and foliage as they introduce us to what they like about their friends and themselves. A lovely introduction to appreciation, identity and autonomy, this book feels like a warm cuddle or playing in a sunny garden. A charming sojourn through the beautifully illustrated undergrowth accompanied by toadstools, snails, and other fanciful beings – the perfect book to share with the little person in your life. (Reviewed by Eden)

Juniper Mae: Knight of Tykotech City by Sarah Soh (Ages 6+)

This wins my prize for most adorable book of the year thus far. A plucky wee heroine? A dastardly plot? A forgotten secret order of tech knights? Sign me up please! Juniper Mae is a shy little inventor trying to find her place in the world. When power cuts threaten her city, she must team up with Albie the tama-tama to restore light to the streets! Sarah Soh’s art style is so cute and expressive; the pages are simply bursting with heart. This is a fantastic graphic novel for early readers or anyone looking for a bite-sized adventure that’ll have you squealing in your seat.  (Reviewed by Eden)

Mrs Crabolli’s Curious Casseroles by Denise Silk-Martelli (Ages 7+)

From local legend Denise Silk-Martelli, this is an exciting romp full of frights and delight! James’s witchy old neighbour mutters in a strange language and is almost certainly eating the neighbourhood pets. Could she have a taste for children as well? There’s definitely something fishy going on, but is old Crabby really as sinister as she seems? Genuinely spooky in parts with some excellent humour and a good message about making assumptions and judging others for their differences. This is a great one to read dramatically to your kids or have them try it themselves for a bit of a challenge! (Reviewed by Eden)

I am not Esther by Fleur Beale (Ages 12+)

A certified NZ classic for a reason, I am Not Esther chronicles the story of Kirby Greenland, an average teenage girl who is suddenly abandoned by her mother and left to stay with her uncle’s family. If this wasn’t bad enough, her new relatives are part of a fundamentalist Christian sect who eschew modern society to lead modest godly lives. She cannot watch television, read books that are not the bible, wear pants or anything above the ankle, and must cover her hair while in public. Everything from her previous life is torn away, including her name. Kirby is a feisty but compassionate protagonist, and her struggle to maintain her identity against the odds is hugely compelling. Beale explores her grief, guilt and complex family dynamics with guts and grace. (Reviewed by Eden)

The five books that have thrilled Unity Books Wellington staff this past month.

Turtles all the Way Down by John Green (Ages 14+)

Green is a highly acclaimed YA author and he absolutely deserves the praise he gets. This is my favourite of his books. Aza Holmes never intended to pursue the disappearance of fugitive billionaire Russell Pickett, but there’s a hundred-thousand-dollar reward at stake and her Best and Most Fearless Friend, Daisy, is eager to investigate. Will she be able to crack the case when she is constantly at war with her own brain? Green perfectly captures the compounding shame, intrusive thoughts and thinking spirals experienced by myself and others with Anxiety and Obsessive Compulsive Disorder. I truly have never felt so seen and understood by a book before. Heartbreaking but ultimately hopeful, this is an important exploration of mental illness that I really wish I had growing up. (Reviewed by Eden)

And the Unity Books Wellington children’s bestsellers for August:

1 The Adventures of Mittens: Wellington’s Famous Purr-Sonality by Silvio Bruinsma (Penguin, $20)
2 The Skull by Jon Klassen (Walker, $36)
3 One of Us is Back #3 One of Us by Karen McManus (Penguin, $30)
4 Duck Goes Meow by Juliette MacIver (Illustrator Carla Martell) (Scholastic, $22)
5 Pearl in a Whirl by Catherine Robertson (Illustrator Fifi Colston) (Puffin, $21)
6 Twenty Thousand Fleas Under the Sea by Dav Pilkey  (Graphix, $22)
7 The Sun & the Star: A Nico di Angelo Adventure by Rick Riordan & Mark Oshiro (Puffin, $30)
8 Red, White & Royal Blue by Casey McQuinston (MacMillan, $30)
9 World’s Worst Monsters by David Walliams (Harper Collins, $27)
10 Sleep Little Kiwi Sleep by Deborah Hinde (PictureBook Publishing, $20) 

Keep going!