From the Shop Floor: Unity Wellington

We are pleased to present a regular monthly series highlighting the work, expertise and enthusiasm of some of the greatest children’s booksellers of New Zealand. Tilly Lloyd of the famous Unity Books in Wellington shares some of their capital goings-on. Photos by John Duke.

Alan Preston (1934-2004) was a sportsman with a history degree and a penchant for books and deep dialogue. He opened Unity Books in Wellington 50 years ago. On its first day the till tape said only $19.70, but fortunately things improved enough to buy an increasing scale of books, hire staff, and expand three times, always on Willis Street.

Unity Books has always been literary and since the 1970s, feminist as well, and they’ve kept to that kaupapa (even though they have over the last 15 years blended some necessary commercialism into the stock). In 2005, Unity Books was co-purchased by the current owners. The shop is well resourced, and well regarded for its opinion and its willingness, as well as its curated stock, in-store events, special orders, library and school supply, newsletters, catalogues and advertising, reviewing, archive, and armchairs.

What are you recommending this month?

Ngā Whetū Matariki i Whānakotia by Miriama Kamo and illustrated by Zak Waipara is very cool, available too in the English edition (Scholastic).

Along with Matariki fever, Wellington is busy with various lepidoptery fixations, and Courtney Sina Meredith and Giselle Clarkson’s book Secret World of Butterflies (Allen & Unwin) is hitting the spot.

Go Girl: A Storybook of Epic NZ Women by Barbara Else (Puffin) is probably destined to be as perennial as Moira Wairama’s long-player The Taniwha of Wellington Harbour (was Mallinson Rendel, then Children’s Bookshop Wellington, now Puffin).

What new releases are you looking forward to over the next few months?

The te Reo edition of Robyn Belton’s Hāpata: Te Kurī Māia o te Moana (Herbert the Brave Sea Dog) is due in August (Potton & Burton). I’ve always had a hopeless soft spot for Herbert.

What do you wish was selling better?

Annual 2 by Kate De Goldi and Susan Paris has done stonking with us but I always felt this book deserves a bigger Cult Fever (in capitals please) – it’s a fabulous visual-text experiment for kids up to the age of 102, and I now wonder if it’s too slightly ahead of its time.

Share a nice story you have about matching a book to a customer/reader!

A customer did the matching really, and I loved all the subtext: on Monday an Antony Beevor fan was buying E.H. Gombrich’s Little History of the World (2006) for her reluctant-reader 11-year-old, and eventually we found it exactly where it was meant to be in kids’ non-fiction.

Ignoring that we staff were peering in disbelief at an alien spine we had known forever, she said, ‘I know Gombrich is a gateway drug to Bill Bryson, but beggars can’t be choosers.’

What do you wish publishers would publish?

More comics, especially high-IQ kids’ non-fiction (e.g. Gombrich).

Is there anything else you’d like to tell our readers?

Our money is on Pauline Smith’s Dawn Raid: My NZ Story winning its category in the Book Awards.

One day we had a newer, larger history table built. We wheeled the old history table down the shop and joined it onto the kids’ table and went a wild selling spree of kids’ non-fiction. Three years later, the kids’ table and the dedicated walls on three sides are still one of the most-peopled tables in the shop and it fills my heart to see the industry of it, and all the reading at floor level, and all the boards and scooters too.

Unity Books Wellington

57 Willis Street

Te Aro, Wellington

Tel: (04) 499 4245