From the Shop Floor: Little Unity, Auckland

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.

Here’s a newborn on the block: Little Unity, a just-for-kids spin-off of the beloved High Street icon, Unity Books in Auckland.

Little Unity opened on 1st September, 2018 as a result of the children’s section growing up and out and finally too big for its little back corner of Unity Books on Auckland’s High Street. They got the opportunity to take the lease on the shop next door – on the corner of High Street and Vulcan Lane – and grabbed it.

The shop was designed by Sophie Edwards (who worked at Unity as a school student) and Tom Dobinson, who understood that beautiful children’s books speak for themselves. The design is about face-out shelving with tiers running up and down the windows, with peeks in-between to tease and invite.

One astute nine-year-old customer marvelled that the shop is ‘so small on the outside, but when you come inside it’s like a book TARDIS!’.

What are you recommending this month?

On our counter in pride of place for opening day was Toitoi journal. We thank them for inspiring and supporting young Kiwi writers and artists with yet another beautiful issue (#12!), and the new issue is just about to drop in mid-October.

Also flying out the door and needing no recommendation is the new Patrick Ness from Walker Books. And the Ocean Was Our Sky is a re-telling of Moby Dick through the eyes of the whale. It has moody illustrations and is a beautiful production, perfect for deep-thinking mid- to YA-readers in classic Ness style.

The new Neal Shusterman title, Dry (Walker Books) looks to be a sure bet for YA speculative fiction readers. I have only managed the first chapter so far but was totally hooked in by it, so it’s on the top of the pile. It’s set in California when the water runs out, and the taps run dry … and the ugly side of human nature starts to rear its head.

We love The Book of Trees by Piotr Socha (Thames and Hudson), which is just as lovely as 2016’s The Book of Bees, and has great text and gorgeous illustrations – ticking boxes for all ages.

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

Rivers: A visual history from river to sea by Peter Goes is a Gecko Press production and a beautifully illustrated large-format hardback due in November.

And also from Gecko, Cook’s Cook, the story of Captain Cook’s journey told through the eyes of the ship’s cook, with heaps of history, information and humour for kids to pore over.

What do you wish was selling better?

Firstly, we are thrilled to say that Gavin Bishop’s Aotearoa has had a resurgence and was back in our Unity Books top ten thanks to the beautiful window space we can now display it in.

As for other sales … it’s a bit hard to judge at the moment as there are whole new sections that we have never had room for when we were squished into the back of the big shop! The space is still relatively small (27 square metres) but with so much more display space, we are hopeful that sections like our new graphic novel space will take off, and also our focus on te reo Māori and Pasifika books, once the word spreads that we aim to have everything that’s available.

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

Recently I had the heart-wrenching honour of assisting a young mum with a terminal illness to choose some books for her small children to be opened each year on their birthdays until they turn 21. As sad as it was, it was also a lovely task, filled with aroha and respect for the process and the result. I know other booksellers helped with this project too, and I know it would have been as special for them as it was for me. I love that this woman took time to seek us all out and choose with such patience and trust.

What do you wish publishers would publish?

The Little Prince in te reo Māori! We get asked quite often for this by the adult cult followers of this classic (often overseas tourists who collect them in every language, but how cool would it be for our tamariki to be introduced to it in this way?

It would also be great to see more books at all levels published in te reo Māori and Samoan and other languages. Huia, One Tree House and Scholastic are some local publishers that are tackling this giant issue already so thank goodness for them, but we still need more, especially for older readers.

I’d love to see the beautiful Peter Gossage Treasury of Maui and other Māori Legends published in te reo Māori. That would be very appropriate and we would sell plenty!

Another thing we have been asked for several times already in the last month is LGBT-inclusive picture books for younger children. There are some titles available from overseas, but very little published in New Zealand.

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

We love asking people about the books they loved as kids, and then trying to hunt them down and stock them. Invariably we get a run on a long-forgotten book this way, and it has the purpose of both reigniting a flame for the adult buyer, and introducing a new generation to old favourites. A classic example is There was An Old Lady Who Swallowed A Fly: creepy, hilarious and totally contagious. Another is Tomi Ungerer’s The Three Robbers (Phaidon). As (owner) Jo discussed with Kim Hill a few weeks ago, this was her favourite, and thanks to her, a whole lot of new Little Unity customers are now enjoying it!

Little Unity

31 Vulcan Lane

Auckland CBD

Tel: (09) 307 0731

Ange Travers

Ange started her bookselling career at Unity Books Auckland right back when it all began, in 1989 – and while she's stepped away several times over the years to raise her four daughters, she has always ended up coming back. In 2018 she oversaw the opening of Little Unity, where she is the manager and buyer.