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A collection of different book covers.
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BooksApril 11, 2023

The Unity Books children’s book review roundup for April

A collection of different book covers.
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 and Daniel Devenney, booksellers at Unity Books Auckland.

The Westing Game by Ellen Raskin (Ages 9+)

This is a Newbury award-winning mid-grade novel first published in 1978 and such a clever puzzle-solving mystery. With a cast of diverse and eccentric characters brought together for the reading of a dead millionaire’s (surname Westing) will, the Westing game begins in earnest and sets the challenge to solve the game to get the money. And as the game progresses each character’s mysterious connection to the dead man is revealed as they all try to outwit each other to claim the fortune. Technology may have moved on since 1978 but the story provides plenty of twists and turns, threats and questions that will keep any young sleuth guessing till the end. (Reviewed by Roger)

A Case with a Bang by Ulf Nilson and illustrated by Gitte Spee (Ages 6+)

The fifth and final episode in the Detective Gordon Story series, which started with The First Case. This time around Detective Gordon and the equally tireless sidekick Buffy find themselves in a friendly forest with another whodunnit to solve involving trolls, damaged trash cans and much time-out for cake. A wonderful series of award-winning books that have been translated by our very own Wellington-based Gecko Press from their original Swedish. This is another multi-layered, fun tale with lovely watercolour illustrations by Indonesian artist Gitte Spee and will be a great start for kids stepping up to beginner chapter books. (Reviewed by Roger)

Hare & Kunekune’s Moonlight Mission by Laura Shallcrass (Ages 3+)

The Hare and Ruru trilogy of picture books by Queenstown local Laura Shallcrass are lush packages of story and illustration. The subtle messages from the previous books are just as evident in Hare & Kunekune’s Moonlight Mission. In this story we see the bush community come together to help explain the mystery of disappearing food, with each page rendered in exquisite detail and a peaceful, muted, colour palette. The books are a beautiful gift to read to a preschool child and the first in the trilogy, Hare and Ruru is also available in a te reo Māori edition, Ko Hea rāua ko Ruru. (Reviewed by Roger)

Medusa: The Girl Behind the Myth by Jessie Burton (Ages 14+)

“If I told you that I’d killed a man with a glance, would you wait to hear the rest? The Why, the how, what happened next? Or would you run from me, this mottled mirror, this body of unusual flesh?”

I absolutely loved this refreshingly feminist retelling of Medusa’s origin. Medusa is one of the most tragic and misunderstood figures in Greek mythology. Jessie Burton has finally done her justice in this powerful story about consent, sexism and the abuse of power. I devoured this in one sitting. It also features stunning illustrations by Olivia Lomenech Gill which really bring this poignant tale to life. (Reviewed by Daniel)

All That’s Left in the World by Erik J. Brown (Ages 13+)

“But then I look at him; I hear his laugh, I see his smile, and the darkness melts away. Then I do have hope – even just for a little while – because I know that there is something in this world I can fight for. Something I will fight for if I have to.” 

A dystopian novel about a deadly pathogen that wipes out most of the population might seem a bit grim, post-pandemic. However, despite the nightmarish circumstances its lead protagonists are regularly thrust into; this is a surprisingly fun read. It also features a very sweet queer love story. It’s a slow-burn romance that has you screaming internally for these guys to kiss each other already! But it feels earned and authentic when they finally do. The romance and suspense are balanced perfectly with well-timed humour. This author has my attention. All That’s Left in the World is easily the most engrossing YA novel I’ve read in yonks! (Reviewed by Daniel)

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

1 Big Ideas For Curious Minds: An Introduction to Philosophy by Alain de Botton and Anna Doherty (Affirm Press, $40, 9+)
2 Little Prince by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry (Macmillan Collectors Library $20) 10+
3 Down the Back of the Chair by Margaret Mahy (Frances Lincoln $18) 2—5yrs
4 Big Ideas from History: A History of the World by The School of Life (Affirm Press $50) 9+
5 Lighthouse Princess by Susan Wardell and illustrated by Rose Northey  (Penguin $21) 3—5yrs
6 Where Is It? A Wildlife Hunt for Kiwi Kids by Ned Barraud (Potton Burton $20) 3+
7 Wild Robot by Peter Brown (Picadilly Press UK$17) 8—12yrs
8 The Bomb by Sacha Cotter & Josh Morgan (Huia Publishers $23) 4+
9 Atlas of Lost Kingdoms by Emily Hawkins (Wide Eyed Press $40) 8+
10 Hare & Kunekune’s Moonlight Mission by Laura Shallcrass (Beatnik Publishing $30) 2—5yrs      


Reviews by ​​Rachel Pilois, Children’s Book Buyer at Unity Books Wellington.

The Luminaries by Susan Dennard (Ages 13+)

The Luminaries are a secret society of monster hunters, responsible for protecting humanity from the nightmarish creatures that rise from the forests of Hemlock Falls each night. After her father is exposed as a traitor and Winnie’s family shunned, she wants nothing more than to take the deadly hunter trials and join their order to clear her family name – or die trying. To survive Winnie must enlist the help of one of her competitors – her ex-best friend Jay. But as the trials near, Winnie and Jay will discover that Hemlock Falls in in more danger than any of them are prepared for. A great YA read for fans of paranormal fantasy!

Crookhaven: The School for Thieves by J. J. Arcanjo (Ages 9+)

13-year-old Gabriel is a brilliant pickpocket, a skill which he uses to keep his often-empty belly not quite so empty. And then one day, he’s caught. But instead of being arrested, he is invited to attend Crookhaven – a school for thieves. At Crookhaven, students are trained in lock-picking, forgery and “crim-nastics”, all with the intention of doing good out in the world, by conning the bad and giving back to the innocent. But can you ever really trust a thief? Packed with action, mystery and humour, this is a fantastic book for any middle reader.

Fun Math 4 Kids of All Ages with Mazamatics by Maz Hermon (Ages 6+)

This is a fantastic book that helps kids of all ages build a strong foundation for their mathematics skills. Written by local author Maz Hermon, Fun with Math is designed to help kids and adults apply math to practical and relatable situations. Filled with jokes, illustrations, and funny stories this book will make your kids excited to do maths and make doing homework fun! 

The Pigeon Will Ride the Roller Coaster! By Mo Willems (Ages 2+)

Buckle up for twists, turns and emotional loop-de-loops in the most roller coaster-y book ever! Pigeon is so excited for his first ever roller coaster ride. He knows he will need a ticket. He knows he will need to wait in line. And he knows it will be scary as it twists and turns at high speed. But he is ready. Still, is he really ready for what will happen next? Beautifully illustrated in Mo Willems unique style this book is a wonderful new entry into the much beloved Pigeon series. 

Lizzy & the Cloud by The Fan Brothers (Ages 3+)

A wonderful new book by the critically acclaimed Fan Brothers, this timeless picture book blends whimsy with the gentle ache of letting someone you love fly free. Pet clouds are a little out of fashion but to Lizzy, Milo is perfect. As she cares for Milo, waters him, and takes him walks, he continues to grow until he can barely fit in her room. What will Lizzy do when her pet cloud gets too big for her to handle? 

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

1 Iris and Me by Philippa Werry (The Cuba Press, $25) 9+
2 Uppish Hen & Other Poems by Robin Hyde, ed. Juanita Deely (The Cuba Press, $25) All ages
3 The Adventures of Mittens: Wellington’s Famous Purr-Sonality by Silvio Bruinsma (Penguin, $20) 3+
4 The Boy, the Mole, the Fox and the Horse by Charlie Mackesy (Ebury Press, $40) All ages
5 Moon Rising: The Graphic Novel (Wings of Fire, Book Six) by Tui T Sutherland & Mike Holmes (Scholastic, $22) 8+
6 The Noisy Book by Soledad Bravi (Gecko Press, $25) 0—18 months
7 Kuwi & Friends: Maori Picture Dictionary by Kat Merewether & Pānia Papa (Illustrated Publishing, $35) 4+
8 The Fairies’ Easter Egg Surprise by Sarina Dickson (Hachette Aotearoa, $20) 3+
9 Big Emotions for Little People by Rebekah Lipp (Wilding Books, $19) 5+
10 Animalphabet by Julia Donaldson (Two Hoots, $20) 2+

Keep going!