Good Books is one of the youngest bookshops in the country, only springing to life this past spring. But they have already developed a passionate following, not least because the staff there are some familiar faces to those in the book world – especially the children’s book world! In fact, the co-owner and manager of Good Books is Sapling co-founder and former editor Jane Arthur! Jane’s kicked off the business with Wellington author Catherine Robertson, and their bookselling team includes Becky Popham, Rose Peoples and Freya Daly Sadgrove. We’ll let you get on with reading Jane’s kids book picks of the moment!
Julian at the Wedding – Jessica Love – Walker Books Australia
When the rep showed me the pages for this picture book a few months ago, I couldn’t even finish it because it was so beautiful and joyous that I almost cried, so I shoved them back at her and immediately ordered a big pile. I’ve since read the whole thing properly and it is SO WONDERFUL. You NEED it!
Julian is the gender-non-conforming star of the book. He is a mermaid, and in this book, he’s at a (lesbian, yeah!) wedding with his friend. They get a bit bored, so wander off for a while and mess up their nice clothes, and the whole thing just OOZES love and acceptance, and at the end, everyone dances and they’re all so styley and cool! The pictures are watercolourful (I made up that word) and the paper is lovely, and the whole thing plain warms the cockles of m’heart.
I Am the Universe – Vasanti Unka – Penguin NZ
A big, explosively bold celebration of one child’s place in the gigantic universe from award-winning New Zealand picture book maker, Vasanti Unka. She cleverly slips in details like names of the layers of atmosphere, the planets, and animals throughout the world. As you turn the pages, it zooms in towards planet Earth, ending with a family and then one child, looking out at the stars from the start of the book. A blooming great present for the child in your life aged four to six, or thereabouts. Honestly, they’ll love it.
The Stone Giant – Anna Hoglund – Gecko Press
This small, hardback picture book is one of those special objects Gecko Press does so well – a real cloth spine, and shiny gold and silver bits on the cover! The text is short and bittersweet, and evoked in me memories of Oscar Wilde’s fairytales, but don’t worry, this one is nowhere near as sad. The child is the hero of the story here, as she crosses dark oceans and forests in search of her father, the knight, who never came home from his mission to fight “a very dangerous giant out there who is turning people to stone”. I think you could give this to anyone (even your mum) over the age of three who appreciates a quiet, beautiful, triumphant tale.
Egg & Spoon: An Illustrated Cookbook – Alexandra Tylee and Giselle Clarkson – Gecko Press
Come for the delicious recipes, stay for the funny illustrations, clean up with the free tea towel. I was excited about this one partly because I love everything Giselle Clarkson touches (she does the regular Sapling comic), and then when I saw the finished book, I felt deep respect for it as a piece of children’s publishing. This is a beautiful object – it has TWO sewn-in ribbons to mark your place – and is pitched at “foodie” kids. It’s not trying to be simple or safe with its recipes or ingredients, and that feels refreshing in the world of children’s cookbooks. Yum, yum, yum.
Mophead Tu – Selina Tusitala Marsh – Auckland University Press
Mophead – the first children’s book by former NZ Poet Laureate – won the overall Margaret Mahy Book of the Year at this year’s New Zealand Book Awards for Children and Young Adults (which I was veeery stoked to announce as this year’s convenor of judges). It also won the overall best book at this year’s Book Design Awards. So you know the follow-up is going to be a goodie. Give this to any child, teen or adult who’s interested in decolonisation, poetry, moral imperatives, creativity, and confidence. That’s everyone, right?
Also! We’re very delighted to be hosting the Wellington launch for this book: come to the shop at 6pm on Thursday 17 December.
Skunk and Badger – Amy Timberlake and Jon Klassen – Allen & Unwin
I ordered a bunch of this gorgeous hardback chapter book for ages six to nine purely because it’s illustrated by Jon Klassen (That’s Not My Hat, etc) and I figured it must be good if the publisher splashed out on such a superstar. And apparently the story totally lives up to the package. Our senior bookseller, Becks, says: Badger lives alone, quiet and content, in his aunt’s house, doing his Very Important Rock Work. A knock at the door throws Badger’s life into chaos. Here is Skunk, Badger’s VERY unexpected new flatmate. A witty, quirky read about breaking old routines and learning to accept the differences in others.
The Stolen Prince of Cloudburst – Jaclyn Moriarty – Allen & Unwin
Our bookseller, Freya, is the world’s #1 fan of this series, so we’ll let her explain… I have a deep and abiding passion for Jaclyn Moriarty’s Kingdoms and Empires series, which began with The Extremely Inconvenient Adventures of Bronte Mettlestone and stole my damn heart. The Stolen Prince of Cloudburst is the third and latest instalment, and it’s another cracker of middle grade fantasy. It’s written with such sensitivity and generosity, it’s totally original and unexpected and charming (it’s also an absolute anthem for middle children). It’s impossible not to love!! Okay!!
The List of Things That Will Not Change – Rebecca Stead – Text Publishing
This came out earlier in the year, and I was really looking forward to selling it in the shop because I had just finished reading it when the shop was suddenly a happening thing. Rebecca Stead (When You Reach Me) writes the kind of pre-teen fiction that suits me to a T: realistic, contemporary settings, a dry sense of humour, and vivid, realistic characters. Here, the narrator, Bea, tells us about her parent’s divorce and her dad’s new marriage, and she tries to befriend – or be-sister – his new husband’s daughter. Bea is charming, but very far from perfect, and you can see the depths of her family’s love for her through their patience. Along with a strong voice and gorgeous inter-character dynamics, there’s a clever backwards reveal of what really happened last summer. A lovely, intriguing, funny and rather quiet book, and really satisfying.
Charlie Tangaroa and the Creature From the Sea – Tania K. Roxborogh – Huia Publishers
I’ve been looking forward to reading this for years, after following Tania’s progress on social media as she wrote it, and I suspect it might be the story she was born to write. The characters are wonderful – no one’s too perfect or powerful – and there’s a terrific balance of action and emotion, the earthly and the godly. Thirteen-year-old Charlie and his rascally brother Robbie find a strange kind of mermaid on the beach – and that’s just the beginning. Next, come storms and earthquakes, bickering Māori gods, and some mysteries Charlie’s slow to comprehend. Give it to the intermediate-aged child in your life, whether they’re big readers or reluctant – I reckon this will hook most kids.
The Pōrangi Boy – Shilo Kino – Huia Publishers
I was really happy to place the shop’s first order for this book, as I’ve been admiring Shilo Kino’s online journalism and personal essays over the past couple of years. The publication of her debut middle-grade novel proves my theory that Huia is possibly the best children’s publisher we have when it comes to discovering and nurturing exciting new talent in children’s books. The novel starts with a bang: short chapters, lots of action and dialogue, and some challenging, important themes. It’s based on a true story of a community protesting the building of a new prison, and would be a great book for any ten to 13-year-old, urban or rural, who’s ready to think about their place in their whānau, community and world.
Recommendations by the Good Books team (Becky, Catherine, Jane, Freya, and Rose) and words by Jane.
Good Books can be found at 2/16 Jessie Street, tucked around behind Hamish McKay Art Gallery, opposite Prefab café’s back door in Te Aro, Wellington. They pride themselves on being New Zealand’s first Living Wage accredited bookshop.
Jane Arthur co-owns and manages GOOD BOOKS, a small independent bookshop in Pōneke Wellington. She twice judged the NZ Book Awards for Children and Young Adults, in 2019 and 2020. Her debut poetry collection, Craven (VUP) won the Jessie Mackay Prize for best first book of poetry at the 2020 Ockham NZ Book Awards, and a second collection will appear in 2023. Jane is also co-founder of The Sapling.