Image: Tina Tiller
Image: Tina Tiller

BooksJune 8, 2023

The Unity Books children’s book review roundup for June

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 Roger Christensen, Una Ryan and Daniel Devenney, booksellers at Unity Books Auckland.

Elf Dog & Owl Head by M. T. Anderson, illustrated by Junyi Wu (Ages 8+)

M. T. Anderson has written some wonderfully imaginative stories for children of all ages. And with a new book arriving on the shelf, I can’t help myself. With the world at a standstill during a global pandemic (sound familiar?), Clay is looking for a way out from his imposed isolation and happily escapes to the nearby woods where he meets a unique and attentive dog. Clay follows the dog down paths he never knew existed, navigating the perils of a vastly different world inhabited by beastly mammoth wyrms, a lazy depressed giant, owl-headed people and magical exploits beyond his imagination. In true Anderson style, the reader is plunged into an evocative and thrilling adventure with superb dialogue and plot twists. A rollicking fun read with cute black-and-white illustrations. (Reviewed by Roger.)

HappyHead by Josh Silver (Ages 14+)

When teenage unhappiness reaches epidemic proportions, a mysterious organisation known as HappyHead offers a wellness retreat that claims to have the solution. Seb, desperate to improve his situation and make his parents proud, enters this experimental programme willingly. But something feels off from the moment he arrives. HappyHead’s methods become increasingly cruel, and Seb realises he’s trapped inside a potentially deadly facility. Luckily, his new crush, Finn, might have a plan to break them out! HappyHead harkens back to the golden days of the teenage dystopia. “Like Hunger Games but better” is a weighty statement to place on the cover of any book. After all, The Hunger Games is the crème-de-la-crème in this genre and will likely remain so. However, this is an absolute page-turner. It hooks you immediately with its intriguing concept and ominous atmosphere. The characters are great and its cliff-hanger ending will leave you longing for more. (Reviewed by Daniel.)

The Bear and the Wildcat by Kazumi Yumoto, illustrated by Komako Sakai (Ages 5+)

This book’s been around for a while and it remains a poignant picture book to introduce young children to the various stages of loss. Bear’s best friend, a little bird, has died and he is heartbroken. Initially unable to share the memory of his lost friend with anyone willing to listen, Bear is left feeling more distraught and alone. Not the cheeriest of topics to dip into but with utmost care the writer and illustrator reveal the complexity of grief, and that navigating through one’s feelings eventually leads to new journeys and friendships to be made. The simple, textured black and white woodcut-style illustrations, with increasing splashes of pink, convey a deeply tender and healing odyssey. (Reviewed by Roger.)

An internal spread from The Bear and The Wildcat.

Global by Eoin Colfer and Andrew Donkin, illustrated by Giovanni Rigano (Ages 9+)

In this thrilling graphic novel the dream team that is Eoin Colfer, Andrew Donkin and Giovanni Rigano bring to life two tales of bravery and endurance against the backdrop of today’s fragile world. Though worlds apart, Sami and Yuki share one thing in common: climate change. In Sami’s Bay of Bengal, cyclones sweep villages away, the everyday fisherman struggles to fill his net and neighbours start to turn on each other.

Thousands of miles away, Yuki is determined to find and protect the starving Grolar bear that has been spotted near her home in the North of Canada. This quest quickly turns into a journey of survival as Yuki and Loki the dog become the hunted, but the ice is melting, and the sun is setting… (Reviewed by Una.)

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

1 Noisy Book by Soledad Bravi (Gecko Press, $25) 0–3yrs
2 Big Ideas from History: A History of the World, School of Life (Affirm Press, $50) 9+
3 Big Ideas for Curious Minds, School of Life (Affirm Press, $45) 10+
4 Midnight Adventures of Ruru and Kiwi by Clare Scott (Puffin, $21)
5 Colours, Colours Everywhere by Julia Donaldson (Two Hoots, $30) 3+
6 Tu Meke Tuatara by Malcom Clarke & Flox (Mary Egan Publishing, $20) 3+
7 Maui & Other Legends: Eight Classic Tales by Peter Gossage (Penguin, $40) 5+
8 Marvellous Margot: A Story about Kindness and Cake by Lou Peacock & Ingela Arrhenius (Nosy Crow, $28) 2-4yrs
9 Every Word Tells A Story by Tom Read Wilson (Allen & Unwin, $30) 5+
10 Cluster Of Stars: Matariki Around The World by Miriama Kamo & Rangi Mātāmua (Scholastic, $35) 4+


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

Welcome to Sex by Dr Melissa Kang & Yumi Stynes (Ages 12+)

This is the book I wish I had as a teenager! Health experts Dr Melissa Kang and Yumi Stynes have teamed up to write their fourth book in the “Welcome to” series that provides health and relationship advice to teens. This new book is a comprehensive and age appropriate guide to sex, sexuality, gender and relationships, that is both reassuring and all about keeping sex fun, real and shame-free. Covering topics from anatomy and self-love to consent and contraception, this book is packed with honest advice for both teens and adults alike. A must-read for learning sexual education, this book will answer those difficult questions and help readers navigate their sexual experiences with confidence. (Reviewed by Rachel.)

The Moon is a Ball: Stories of Panda & Squirrel by Ed Franck & Illustrated by Thé Tjong-Khing (Ages 58+)

If you’re a fan of The Boy, the Mole, the Fox and the Horse, this is the book for you and your young ones. Another phenomenal release from beloved local publishers Gecko Press, this is a collection of nine short stories for kids ages 5-8. Funny, sweet, and philosophical in its storytelling, this book explores friendship in all its complexity, and how it survives the trials and tribulations of life. Beautifully illustrated throughout, the simplicity and bright colours perfectly capture the essence of Panda and Squirrel’s relationship and will make you reflect on and cherish your own friends. (Reviewed by Rachel.)

All of Shaun Tan’s work, ever

I will sing this man’s praises til the cows come home. I recommend him to adults as much as kids, he is that good. Tan illustrates whimsical worlds that lie alongside our own; strange and fantastical but always communicating something deeply human quality. Tackling big subjects such as grief, the immigrant experience and our complex relationship with animals, all with nuance and heart, these beautifully realised tales will resonate with young and old alike. Whether it’s the wordless beauty of The Arrival, the rollicking and playful Rules of Summer, or the incredibly profound collection Tales from the Inner City, there’s something unique for all to discover. Come for the stunning art, stay for the wit, insight, heartbreak and infectious joy. Every book is a treasure. (Reviewed by Eden.)

The Girls I’ve Been by Tess Sharpe (Ages 14+)

Nora is depositing money with her ex-boyfriend and new girlfriend when she finds herself in the midst of a bank heist. Fortunately, her previous life as the daughter of a con artist has left her well equipped to deal with the situation. The characters are gorgeously endearing and natural, and their witty banter is great levity when the book deals with more heavy subject matters. If you’re looking for found family and surprisingly great endometriosis representation, this is a blisteringly good read that packs a punch and a whole lot of heart. (Reviewed by Eden.)

The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman, illustrated by Chris Riddell (Ages 9+)

“Fear is contagious. You can catch it. Sometimes all it takes is for someone to say that they’re scared for the fear to become real.” One of my all-time absolute favourites, The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman (and illustrated by Chris Riddell) is perfect for a child (or adult) with a penchant for the spooky. We follow Nobody Owens, affectionately known as Bod, an orphan who lives in a graveyard and is being raised by ghosts. Bod enjoys friendships with witches and ghouls, learns magical lore and spells and ventures to the living world where we discover a grave threat from a man called Jack. Weirdos and witches will be charmed. (Reviewed by Jess.)

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

1 The Sun & the Star: A Nico di Angelo Adventure by Rick Riordan & Mark Oshiro (Puffin, $30) 10+
First Signs: Everyday Words by Jenna Brockett (Prints & Princesses, $25) 0–3 yrs
3 Sleepy Kiwi by Kat Quin (Tikitibu, $20) 0–3 yrs
4 The Boy, the Mole, the Fox & the Horse by Charlie Mackesy (Ebury Press, $40) All ages
5 A Kiwi Went to Sea by Peter Millet (Bateman, $22) 3+
6 Fun Math 4 Kids of All Ages with Mazmatics Vol 1 by Maz Hermon (Mazmatics, $24) 7+
7 You Hung the Moon: A Love Letter Between Mother & Child by Jessica Urlichs (Illustrator Sarah Reinhardt) (Hachette, $25) All ages
8 Robodog by David Walliams (Harper Collins, $23) 7+
9 Wildlife of Aotearoa Colouring Book by Gavin Bishop (Puffin, $13) 3+
10 Counting Creatures by Julia Donaldson (Two Hoots, $25) 3+

Keep going!