Some of the books reviewed by Unity Books booksellers.
Some of the books reviewed by Unity Books booksellers.

BooksApril 11, 2024

The Unity Books children’s book review roundup for Autumn

Some of the books reviewed by Unity Books booksellers.
Some of the books reviewed by Unity Books booksellers.

The booksellers of Unity Books Auckland and Wellington review a handful of children’s books sure to delight and inspire readers of all ages.


Reviews by Elka Aitchison and Roger Christensen, booksellers at Unity Books Auckland

Sylvie by Sylvie Kantorovitz (Ages 9+)

This a graphic memoir for middle-grade readers looking for something akin to Raina Telgemeier’s Smile series, and handles the often-asked question of what are you going to do when you grow up? I’m still asking myself this question well past middle-grade and in this case, Sylvie is the only one in her class that doesn’t have an answer. This is a sweet, simply illustrated account of the author’s childhood living with her parents in the school where her father is principal. Figuring out who she is and understanding the complex relationships around her provides a funny anecdotal account of all the struggle, heartache and messiness of growing up and feeling like you don’t fit in. Set in the early 1970s in France, there is much to relate to in this superb story of finding yourself through art. / RC

Sally Jones and the False Rose by Jakob Wegelius (Ages 9+)

Sally Jones is my heroine. Determined, highly intelligent, loyal, a ship’s engineer and best friend to “The Chief” Henry Koskela, she also happens to be one extraordinary gorilla. Following on from The Murderer’s Ape, Sally Jones returns to narrate her adventures on the high seas with wonderful illustrated character studies at the front of the book an added bonus. Finding a curious necklace onboard their boat the Hudson Queen, Sally and The Chief embark on a dangerous quest to find the owner. 1930s Glasgow is the first port of call in this rollicking tale which sets Sally up against a ruthless gang of smugglers who fancy the necklace for themselves. This is masterful story telling and readers young and old will feel every ounce of tension along with Sally in this high-stakes mystery. / RC

Something About the Sky by Rachel Carson, illustrated by Nikki McClure (Ages 7+)

For anybody that spends time gazing upwards this is a book that will provoke further wonder about the patterns in the sky. Rachel Carson changed the way we think about the environment and spurred a revolutionary conservation movement through her influential writing about nature and science in the 1950s-60s. This book, originally written as part of a children’s TV series in 1956, has only recently been transformed into a beautifully lyrical picture book. The sumptuous cut-paper illustrations of evocative cloudscapes (with the cover image you could almost believe you were on Takarunga maunga gazing across Auckland harbour to Rangitoto) combine perfectly with Carson’s poetic musings on the majesty of the natural world, creating an overall sensual meditation on the cycle of life. / RC

The Lie Tree by Frances Hardinge (Ages 12+)

The Lie Tree is an exquisite Victorian murder mystery, a winding tale of lies and revenge. At the centre of the story is Faith, a reliable young woman who always does what’s expected of her. But when her brilliant but disgraced scientist father dies, she is determined to find out the truth. Faith finds a mysterious tree which feeds on lies and delivers hidden truths; as you turn the pages her whispered lies gain strength and momentum, transforming into something uncontainable. The novel is so atmospheric and while reading you are immersed in Faith’s 19th century world, finding yourself somewhere eerie and wonderfully peculiar. The fantasy elements shine through in the second half and the characters grow in significance and complexity. A deeply satisfying read and a fascinating look at the ways women have been silenced throughout history. / EA

The Amazing and True Story of Tooth Mouse Perez by Ana Cristina Herreros (Ages 4+)

This picture book is such a treat. An Enchanted Lion book that fulfils the Brooklyn-based publisher’s promise to create extraordinary books, full of weird, wonderful stories and some of the very best illustrations. The Amazing and True Story of Tooth Mouse Pérez is a weaving of folk tale and classic picture book, and Herreros balances the styles perfectly. It’s a retelling of the Spanish tale in which children throw their teeth on the roof to be collected by a mouse who will fill the gap with one as strong and straight as a mouse’s. The illustrations are utterly delightful and very clever with little mice bearing Borrowers-style accessories – a thimble, a button, a needle – scuttling across the pages. Together with the story they artfully show us how the mice have navigated their little jobs in the face of our changing world. A perfect book for kids who aren’t quite ready to tackle a junior fiction novel but are finding shorter picture books too easy. / EA

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

1 Atua: Maori Gods & Heroes by Gavin Bishop (Puffin, $40)
2 The Midnight Adventures of Ruru and Kiwi by Claire Scott, illustrated by Amy Haarhoff (Puffin, $21)
3 Impossible Creatures by Katheine Rundell (Bloomsbury, $23)
4 Duck Goes Meow by Juliette Maciver, illustrated by Carla Martell (Scholastic, $25)
5 Peter Rabbit: Easter Fun by Beatrix Potter (Warne, $21)
6 The Baddies by Julia Donaldson, illustrated by Axel Scheffler (Alison Green Books, $30)
7 Tu Meke Tui! by Malcolm Clarke (Mary Egan, $20)
8 Sleepy Kiwi by Kat Quin (Tikitibu, $20)
9 Badjelly the Witch by Spike Milligan (Puffin, $28)
10 The Grimmelings by Rachael King (Allen & Unwin, $25)


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

The Taming of the Cat by Helen Cooper (Ages 7+)

Helen Cooper has outdone herself with this masterpiece that is sure to be a modern classic in the making. The Taming of the Cat is a tale-within-a-tale and so full of charm, wit, and cheese, it will enchant readers completely. A brave little mouse called Brie is caught between the claws of the fierce cat Gorgonzola. Desperate to survive Brie begins telling Gorgonzola a fantastical tale of a princess, her magical cat, and a quest to find a magical herb. But Gorgonzola is getting hungry and if Brie wants his life spared this must be the best story he’s ever told. Exquisitely illustrated, this book is a gem that will keep you coming back again and again.

Everything Under the Moon edited by Michael Earp, illustrated by Kit Fox (Ages 14+)

In Everything Under the Moon 12 authors come together to amplify often silenced voices, modifying traditional fairytales to tell stories that represent the vast spectrum of the LGBTQIA+ community. Kit Fox’s spectacular illustrations add depth and character to lush tales of a mermaid who offers an escape from a loveless home, aromantics carving a space for themselves and sons loved by their fathers no matter what. Aptly interrogating the meaning of “happy ever after” this is a truly unique perspective on the cherished tales of old. The Grimm Brothers may be acclaimed for their folktale collection, but this brilliant anthology is for the next generation. Teens and adults alike will find comfort and joy in the pages of this must-read treasure.

Godfather Death by Sally Nicholls, illustrated by Júlia Sardà (Ages 6+)

This may be one of the most beautiful picture books I’ve ever read. Heart-wrenching and haunting, this reimagining of the Grimm Brothers’ classic tale will enchant, thrill and chill readers of all ages. When a poor fisherman chooses Death to be godfather to his son, he’s sure he’s made a good choice – for surely there’s no man more honest than Death? At the christening, Death gives the fisherman a gift that seems at first to be the key to the family’s fortune, but when greed overcomes the fisherman, he learns that nobody can truly cheat Death. Sally Nicholls’ brilliant writing is perfectly paired with Júlia Sardà’s stunning and colourful illustrations to create a book that will be cherished for a lifetime.

Sounds Good! by Hans Könnecke & Ole Könnecke (Ages 5+)

A unique and brilliant book that lets you explore fifty common and uncommon instruments from around the world! From the guitar and cello to the glockenspiel and kazoo, this musical masterpiece teaches you interesting, practical, and curious facts about music and how music is made. Listen through the QR codes on each page to a piece of music composed to showcase every instrument by an award-winning musician – and to a full band that brings together all the instruments in the book! A truly delightful way to learn musical instruments!

Cries from the Moana by ‘Atu Emberson-Bain, Melino Bain-Vete and Siale Bain-Vete, illustrated by Auntie Fonu (Ages 5+)

A beautiful story about the precious relationship between Pacific Islanders and the ocean, Cries from the Moana is a truly breathtaking book. Follow the magical journey of cousins Mahina and Tahi, who are unexpectedly chosen by their village elders and the goddess Hina mei Moana for a secret mission across the Pacific Ocean, and all the way down to the ocean floor. Along the way they meet fascinating ocean creatures, untangle some mysteries of the deep and discover why a huge, terrifying machine lies abandoned on the seabed. Bursting with spectacular and colourful art, this is a book for readers of all ages and cultures that gives a touching insight into Pasifika culture.

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

1 The Grimmelings by Rachel King (Allen & Unwin, $40) 8+
2 Patu: The New Zealand Wars by Gavin Bishop (Puffin, $40) All years
3 The Observologist by Giselle Clarkson (Gecko Press, $40) 7+
4 Critters of Aotearoa: 50 Bizarre but Loveable Members of our Wildlife Community by Nicola Toki (Illustrator Lily Duval) (Puffin, $30)
5 Court of Thorns & Roses #1 by Sarah J. Mass (Bloomsbury, $25) 16+
6 Hate U Give by Angie Thomas (Walker Books, $23) 16+
7 Heartstopper Vol. 5 by Alice Oseman (Hodder, $28) 12+
8 Percy Jackson & the Olympians: Chalice of the Gods by Rick Riordan (Puffin, $30) 8+
9 Hairy Maclary from Donaldson’s Dairy Board Book by Lynley Dodd (Puffin, $16) 3months+
10 Ballad of Songbirds & Snakes by Suzanne Collins (Scholastic, $25) 15+

Keep going!