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This month’s best books for kids (Image: Archi Banal)
This month’s best books for kids (Image: Archi Banal)

BooksNovember 7, 2023

The Unity Books children’s book review roundup for November

This month’s best books for kids (Image: Archi Banal)
This month’s best books for kids (Image: Archi Banal)

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, Daniel Devenney, Demi Cox and Roger Christensen, booksellers at Unity Books Auckland.

The Odyssey retold by Gillian Cross, illustrated by Neil Packer (Ages 9+)

We are spoilt with so many versions of The Odyssey. This one is a superb re-envisioning of the epic poem told simply and with artistic invention — perfect for kids wanting a graphic novel version or for those starting out on a Greek-myth quest. The illustrations by Neil Packer are beautifully stylised and complement the depth of the story. And what an engrossing adventure story it is, full of man-eating monsters, alluring sirens, and vengeful gods, played out over a 10-year-long journey by Odysseus returning home from the Trojan war. Settle in and get lost in this mythical tale (much like Odysseus himself at sea). (Reviewed by Roger)

Lafcadio, the Lion Who Shot Back by Shel Silverstein (Ages 7+)

This is the book that started Shel Silverstein’s literary career in children’s books 60 years ago. An absurd tale, narrated by the lovable Uncle Shelby, of a lion who, with much practice at shooting a gun, becomes the most successful and admired of all hunters throughout the world. But at what cost? This is a fable for all ages and despite the ridiculous and sometimes tragic situations of the story is an absolute pleasure to read alone or together. Shel Silverstein’s black and white cartoon illustrations (this hardback edition has used a glorious colour illustration from the author’s archives for the book cover) have been described as “loose” and “wriggly lines” but I love their whimsy and on every page are perfect additions to the story. What a treat. (Reviewed by Roger)

The Happy Prince and other Tales by Oscar Wilde (Ages 9+)

It doesn’t matter how old you are, Oscar Wilde’s The Happy Prince and Other Tales pierces the heart. These tales are simple but say so much — kindness, compassion, pain, sorrow, sadness, loneliness. “Swallow, swallow, little swallow”, said the Prince, is a line that will sing through my mind forever, like “Once Upon a Time” but in the style of Oscar Wilde. These are charming stories encased in a beautiful Faber edition of gold and sapphire. Illustrated houses float on the cover like something out of a dream, as if high above a sleepy city. In the eyes of Wilde’s swallow, with the prince’s gem in its claw, something magical is about to fall into your hands as you open this beautiful collection. (Reviewed by Demi)

Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes by Suzanne Collins (Ages 12+)

The history Suzanne Collins has created for Panem is astonishing. It’s world-building at its finest. This story takes place during the 10th Annual Hunger Games (64 years before Katniss and Peeta entered the games). It centres on 18-year-old Coriolanus Snow, aka the despicable dictatorial president from the original trilogy. It also introduces District 12’s latest tribute, Lucy Gray Baird, who is nothing like Katniss. Lucy loves the spotlight, and she’s not afraid to manipulate those around her to survive. These characters are more morally ambiguous and cutthroat. This is a fascinating way to return to this world, and it made me realise how late into the mythology the original trilogy took place. There’s plenty of room for further tales. Don’t forget to read this thrilling prequel before the movie hits theatres. “May the odds be ever in your favour.” (Reviewed by Daniel)

Lucy and the Dark by Melinda Szymanik, Illustrated by Vasanti Unka (Ages 3+)

“I’m Dark” said the voice. “It’s alright if you don’t like me. Nobody does… Just close your eyes and by morning I’ll be gone”.
Like many young children Lucy starts off afraid of the dark, until the night Dark turns up in her room to whisk her off on an exciting adventure. This turns into a journey of discovery for the entire town as Lucy finds the fun and joy you can have in the dark, and for those she leaves behind to realise what life is like without it. This is an enjoyable story for all, beginning with the cool glow-in-the-dark cover and the beautiful colour palette of the illustrations. This picture book will have you switching off the night light soon enough. (Reviewed by Una)

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

1 Edmonds Taku Puka Tohutao Tuatahi by Goodman Fielder (Hachette, $28)
2 My BIG Playbook by Ingela P Arrhenius (Nosy Crow, $23)
3 Midnight Adventures of Ruru and Kiwi by Clare Scott, illustrated by Amy Haarhoff (Puffin $21)
4 Wild Robot Protects by Peter Brown (Picadilly, $26)
5 The Noisy Book by Bravi Soledad (Gecko Press, $25)
6 Grand Hotel of Feelings by Lidia Brankovic (Cicada, $35)
7 The Harry Potter Wizarding Almanac: The Official Magical Companion to J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter Books by J.K. Rowling (Bloomsbury, $60)
8 Impossible Creatures by Katherine Rundell (Bloomsbury, $23)
9 Brilliant Maps: An Atlas for Curious Minds by Ian Wright (Granta, $33)
10 What to Do when You’re Not Sure What To Do by Davina Bell, illustrated by Hilary Jean Tapper (Lothian, $30)


All reviews by ​​Rachel Pilois, bookseller at Unity Books Wellington.

The Giver by Lois Lowry (Ages 14+)

If I could read any book again for the first time, it would be The Giver. This is a beautifully written, poignant classic that I love more each time I read it. A unique take on the joys and perils of a utopian society from the perspective of a 12-year-old boy, Jonas, learning about the world. Jonas, gets thrust into a new life of responsibility within his isolated community, tasked with a job that he is uniquely suited for but can’t talk about to others: The Receiver of Memory. As he learns about his new role, he discovers dark secrets about what it takes to create a community of peace and harmony. This book will steal your heart and make you appreciate the world we live in, warts and all.

The Hilda Series by Luke Pearson (Ages 6+)

A much beloved favourite of mine, The Hilda Series began as a graphic novel about a young blue-haired girl who could never sit still for long without setting off for an adventure. Over time the series has expanded to include some amazing novels and a fantastic Netflix show, but I always come back to the original graphic version. Pearson’s art style and use of colour is gorgeous and truly brings to life Hilda’s outings. Full of wondrous creatures, wandering sea spirits, lost giants and angry trolls, these books are full of fun, dramatic twists and just enough danger to keep you on your toes! As Hilda aptly says “thus is the life of an adventurer!”

Echo by Arlo Kelly (Ages 12+)

A finalist for the 2023 New Zealand Book Awards for Children & Young Adults, Echo is a brilliant debut novel by teenaged author Arlo Kelly. Set on New Zealand’s east coast, this book follows visually impaired Eric who loves his quiet life living on a remote beach. However, his life changes in unexpected ways when he has a chance encounter with a whale. Moving and down-to-earth this is a truly wonderful story of friendship, that will stay with you long after you put the book down.

Terra Ultima: The Discovery of a Hidden Continent by Raoul Deleo (Ages 7+)

Welcome to Terra Ultima, a strange new continent filled with bizarre and wondrous animals. This hidden paradise was discovered by eccentric explorer Raoul Deleo after years of searching. This book contains a detailed account of his explorations and his phenomenal drawings of what he found there. From the Toucan Twin Crab to the Blue Fantailed Frog, the illustrations of animals within this book are absolutely stunning and more than a little unusual. A completely genre bending book that combines fiction, myth, science and art, this is a beautiful addition to any library and will open your mind to a world unvisited.

Annie & Moon / Ko Annie rāua ko Marama by Miriam Smith (Ages 2+)

After being out of print for many years, this timeless New Zealand picture book has recently been republished by Penguin Random House in a bilingual English-te reo Māori edition. Translated into Te Reo by A.T. Mahuika and including the original illustrations by Lesley Moyes, this is a brilliant new version of the beloved classic tale. Annie, her mum and her pet cat Moon are always shifting house. One day her grandmother offers the perfect solution – but will Moon like their new home too? A heart-wrenching story about a girl, her beloved cat and the stress of change, Annie & Moon is a book to be enjoyed by everyone, regardless of your age.

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

1 The Observologist by Giselle Clarkson (Gecko Press, $40) 7+
2 Percy Jackson & the Olympians: Chalice of the Gods by Rick Riordan (Puffin, $30) 8+
3 Patu: The New Zealand Wars by Gavin Bishop (Puffin, $40) All years
4 169-Storey Treehouse by Andy Griffiths (Illustrator Terry Denton) (Pan Macmillan, $18) 7+
5 Mia and Leo Go Wild by Gillian Cnadler (Illustrator Gavin Mouldey) (Potton & Burton, $25) 5+
6 Paku Manu Ariki Whakatakapokai by Michaela Keeble (Illustrator Tokerau Brown) (Gecko Press, $30) 5+
7 Counting Creatures by Julia Donaldson (Illustrator Sharon King-Chai) (Two Hoots, $25) 3+
8 Dazzlehands by Sacha Cotter & Morgan Josh (Huia, $22) 3+
9 The Boy, the Mole, the Fox & the Horse by Charlie Mackesy (Ebury, $40) All ages
10 Impossible Creatures by Katherine Rundell (Bloomsbury, $23) 8+

Keep going!