Trusting the expertise of a bookseller to recommend local authors and leaving with the best gifts
As we wrapped up nearly a month in New Zealand, Sean and I wanted to buy a couple of small gifts for Eliza to remember our travels—and to entertain her on our flights all the way to New Orleans. She was sleeping in her stroller as we sauntered through the streets of Auckland until we were stopped in our tracks: a gorgeous, carefully selected display of children’s books wrapped around a corner bookstore called Little Unity. It had just closed for the evening, but we made note of its location and agreed to return the following morning for one last bit of fun before we had to leave for the airport.
The shop owner greeted us warmly as soon as we stepped inside. She gave us a little tour through the dense rows of children’s books and had several suggestions in mind. Little Unity is one of the prettiest bookstores I’ve seen, so cozy yet bright, and their selection of books for children of all ages is simply stellar. This makes sense: it is adjacent, and related, to Unity Books, another beautiful independent bookstore that has been a go-to for half a century. Little Unity focuses entirely on children’s books and opened on September 1, 2018, only a few weeks before our visit. But that morning made us wish we could stop by more often.
After much discussion and consideration, we settled on two Margaret Mahy books: A Lion in the Meadow and Down the Back of the Chair. (Since we had so much fun on her namesake playground, which you might remember from our time in Christchurch, we knew we had to bring a New Zealand favorite home with us.) We also picked up an abridged children’s edition of The Whale Rider by Witi Ihimaera. Both Mahy and Ihimaera are widely recognized for their contributions to New Zealand’s literature, each with too many published works to mention.
Finding books by local authors that you wouldn’t easily find back home makes perfect gifts, as well as a nice way of passing the time during 20+ hours of time on an airplane. If you’re light travelers like us, you know the feeling: you want to get something to remember a trip by but you don’t really want to bring much of anything back with you. And if you do, it had better be good, since it’ll need to displace something else in your bag. We’ve found that books by local authors are just the thing.
As if to prove our case: While in Nelson on the South Island, I bought Sean a birthday gift of another well-regarded New Zealand work: Eleanor Catton’s The Luminaries, winner of the 2013 Man Booker Prize, which takes place in Hokitika where we’d visited together. Within two weeks, Sean had already finished all 800+ pages of it, so I suppose that’s an endorsement in and of itself.
Supporting local authors and bookstores is a pretty fun activity for tourists and locals alike. But don’t just wander in and try to make your choice based on the cover design or back-of-book blurb. Place your trust in the local bookseller by sharing what you like, and allow for some expert matchmaking to happen. You might end up reading an author you never knew you were missing your whole life or keeping your baby happy by reading aloud a funky rhyme scheme on a long-haul flight. (And, yes, I think our fellow passengers almost started joining in after a few readings: “DOWN the BACK of the CHAIR!”)