What’s the best way to get adults reading? Get them reading when they’re children – and there’s no better place to start than Unity’s top-selling kids’ books.
1 Atua: Māori Gods & Heroes by Gavin Bishop (Puffin, $40, all ages)
Bishop’s magnificent black hardback retains its rightful place.
In the last few years Bishop has written and illustrated a slew of standout books – see Aotearoa, Wildlife of Aotearoa, Mihi, and Pops – but Atua is, to run with a terrible pun, god-level.
2 The Storm of Echoes: The Mirror Visitor #4 by Christelle Dabos (Text Publishing, $26, 13+)
The “cataclysmic conclusion”, as Kirkus put it, to a bestselling series set in a world where all that’s left of Earth is shards of rock, called Arks. The Wall Street Journal explained it thusly: “Imagine the poisonous politics of Versailles in a glittering, steampunk world of quill pens, airships, masks, illusions and murderous courtiers.”
3 Everything Under the Sun: A Curious Question for Every Day of the Year by Molly Oldfield (Ladybird UK, $45, 7+)
Do … do kids really need help coming up with questions?
4 Kia Kaha: A Storybook of Māori Who Changed the World by Stacey Morrison & Jeremy Sherlock (Puffin UK, $45, 8+)
A substantial and impeccably designed hardback profiling 50 Māori game-changers – from Māui and Kupe, through Whina Cooper, the Māori Women’s Welfare League and Patricia Grace, Howard Morrison and Buck Shelford, all the way to Stan Walker and Taika Waititi.
“It was very hard to choose who would be in this book and we wish we could have made it much, much longer!” Morrison writes in the introduction. “So maybe this is just the beginning. We hope that Kia Kaha encourages you to look at your own whānau, your own ancestors, and learn more about them and their stories. Treasure the inspiration that you take from their lives, as you go forward and make your own difference in the world.
Kia kaha koe, kia kaha tātou.”
5 Julia and the Shark by Kiran Millwood Hargrave (Orion Children’s Books, $25, 8+)
Via the publisher: “Julia has followed her mum and dad to live on a remote island for the summer – her dad, for work; her mother, on a determined mission to find the elusive Greenland shark. But when her mother’s obsession threatens to submerge them all, Julia finds herself on an adventure with dark depths and a lighthouse full of hope … ”
A fancy-pants hardback, with black and yellow illos, and tracing paper inserts.
6 Sapiens: A Graphic History, Volume 1, The Birth of Humankind by Yuval Noah Harari and David Vandermeulen, and illustrator Daniel Casanave (Jonathon Cape, $48, 11+)
The graphic version of the adult non-fiction hit which, believe it or not, was published a decade ago. (Must be time for an epilogue.)
7 Polly Pecorino: The Girl Who Rescues Animals by Emma Chichester Clark (Walker Books Australia, $23, 8+)
8 Egg Marks the Spot: Skunk & Badger #2 by Amy Timberlake, illustrated by Jon Klassen (Allen & Unwin, $25, 6+)
Genuinely hilarious, adorable, clever, one of those books you’ll be very happy to read 17 times in one afternoon. Did you see it’s illustrated by Klassen? Well, then.
Hera Lindsay Bird raved about the first of the series on RNZ: “This is one of the best books I’ve read all year. Absolutely gorgeous.”
9 The Boy Who Made Things Up by Margaret Mahy, illustrated by Lily Emo (Hachette, $25, 2+)
Emo was one of 50 illustrators who entered the 2020 Margaret Mahy Illustration Prize, making art to go with Mahy’s classic story about a distracted dad and a boy with a big imagination.
Wow, we said, when we saw Emo’s work in the finalists’ lineup. Her pictures have a bouncing lightness to them, a perfect turquoise beachy beauty. And we love how she’s drawn the dad grey, hunched over his computer or his phone, gradually giving him more colour as he starts to follow his son’s lead.
An easy, happy choice for Christmas gifting.
10 The Tiny Woman’s Coat by Joy Cowley, illustrated by Giselle Clarkson (Gecko Press, $25, all ages)
Another Cowley X Clarkson drop from Gecko. But while 2019’s The Gobbledegook Book was big and red and loud, this new picture book is very delicate and perfectly formed.
There’s a tiny woman. We don’t know why the woman is tiny, she just is. It’s about to rain. She sews a coat out of leaves. She gets help from a goose and a snail friend. Her coat has dandelion seeds for buttons and she uses an acorn cap as a hat. You don’t get sweeter than that.
1 Adventures of Mittens by Silvio Bruinsma & Phoebe Morris (Penguin, $20, 3+)
Nice illustrations, and yes it’s about Mittens, and yes, he’s very cute but … there are so many amazing books on this list, and we’d recommend just about all of them before we would this one.
2 Draw Some Awesome by Donovan Bixley (Upstart, $30, 3+)
Does your kid feel stink about their drawing? This accessible, cheerful book might just help.
3 Skinny Dip: Poetry edited by Susan Paris & Kate De Goldi (Annual Ink, $30, 10+)
New Zealand poets poem-ing about school. On the first day of term four we published a sample: school sucks but at least ur friends are there, by Vanessa Mei Crofskey; and Sole to Sole, a poem about mates and lunchtime and KFC, by Victor Rodger.
4 The Boy, the Mole, the Fox and the Horse by Charles Mackesy (Ebury Press, $40, all ages)
A sweet book of sketches and wisdoms, borne of Instagram, since stuck to this list like superglue.
5 Atua: Māori Gods & Heroes by Gavin Bishop (Puffin, $40, all ages)
6 Kia Kaha: A Storybook of Māori Who Changed the World by Stacey Morrison & Jeremy Sherlock (Puffin UK, $45, 8+)
7 Spark Hunter by Sonya Wilson (Cuba Press, $25, 8+)
A stylish and immersive debut novel about fairies in Fiordland. Wilson has been obsessed with the place since she was little and she writes the forest so well you can smell it. Throughout, she maintains a winning mix of richness and sincerity, warmth and low-key easy humour. No content warnings, and no naff either – this book is versatile as anything. You could happily read it to your eight-year-old, give it to your teen for Christmas or simply snaffle it up yourself.
Plot: 12 year-old Nissa gets lost during a school camp and finds the adventure she’s been chasing all her life. There are lots of fairies and they’re very cool but Nissa (who is wildly capable and brave, by the way) is equally enchanted by the lichen and fungi, birds and moths and ancient trees.
Here she is encountering the forest fairies for the first time:
“A pair of wings opened from the middle of her back: four delicately veined stained-glass windows that reflected the greens of the forest and crinkled like cellophane as they unfolded.
Nissa’s mouth fell open. Wings. They had wings.
Agnes Westwind winked. ‘I thought you might fancy that.'”
Separately, let it be known that Wilson is once again collecting brand-new books to give to children this Christmas. Per the posters: “Board books, picture books, chapter books, middle grade, YA, fiction, non-fiction – we’d love them all. (And we’d love it even more if it was a book by a Kiwi author or illustrator.)”
There’s a list of participating bookstores on her Kiwi Christmas Books website – it’ll also walk you through how to donate a book even if you can’t get to a real-life bookstore or post shop.
8 No One is Angry Today by Toon Tellegren, illustrated by Marc Boutavant, translated by David Colmer (Gecko Press, $35, all ages)
Ten short stories involving animals and big emotions. It’s Gecko so you know it’s good. Plus there’s this, from Kirkus Reviews:
“Most of the tales involve animals in varying stages of anger, some directing it inward, some lashing out at others, some fearing another’s anger, and some letting it go …
“Youngsters might be quite perplexed by the tales, for Tellegen rarely provides clues to the characters’ motivations and often leaves readers to arrive at their own conclusions. They would be well served by reading and discussing the work with a loving grown-up.
“A challenging exercise in decoding strong human emotions – but worth the effort.”
9 Sleepy Kiwi by Kat Quin (Tikitibu, $20, all ages)
A board book that’s all in black and white, which intrigues tiny babies. Somehow manages to be both classy and sweet. Perfect for sending overseas.
10 Red, White & Royal Blue by Casey McQuiston (St Martin’s Griffin, $33, 16+)
The only recent romcom we’re recommending to friends, and we’re doing so with that rare and extreme “If you don’t love it I’m not sure we’re actually friends” variety of evangelism. Starring a handsome prince of England and a maverick son of a US president. They hook up. A lot. It’s hot.