Barrington Stoke is celebrating its 15th birthday – an occasion it is marking with the launch, over the year, of 44 brand new titles. In these 15 years, it has produced outstanding books, written by the best of children’s authors, while remaining true to its original objective of creating stories for children for whom reading is difficult and unenjoyable.
The company was founded by Patience Thomson and Lucy Juckes whose own experiences with their children as struggling readers, triggered research into the factors that hindered reading. Pooling their knowledge and gathering together experts in different fields – opthalmics, dyslexia and special educational needs – they came up with some extraordinary findings that, though relatively simple to implement, were highly innovative. Thus, Barrington Stoke was born – a children’s book publisher specialising in fiction for dyslexics and reluctant readers.
Barrington Stoke’s list of authors is impressive and includes Children’s Laureates and winners of prestigious children’s book awards. The list has grown over the years – from just six titles in 1998 to approximately 350 today – and it now targets different stages of a child’s development and interest level. Originally aimed at 8-13 year-olds with a reading age of about 8, it now also caters for emergent readers (interest/reading age 5-8 years) and teenagers (reading age 6-9 years). Genres encompass folktales and alternative fairy tales, thrillers and fantasy, humour and adventure, ghost stories and gritty realism.
Little Gems, the series aimed at emergent readers and launched last September with two titles by Julia Donaldson, expanded last month with the addition of four widely different books. Stars of Mine by Kevin Crossley-Holland is a beautifully crafted retelling of the English folktale, ‘Tom Tit Tom’, while Geraldine McCaughrean’s Go! Go! Chichico!, is a modern-day football story set in a Brazilian favela. Eoin Colfer’s Mary’s Hair is both realistic and funny while Ross Collins surreal fantasy, Cheesemares, is as whacky as it is nightmarish. Writing styles vary from the melodious, as in Stars of Mine to the humorous, pun-filled Cheesemares and incorporate first- and third-person narratives (Mary’s Hair and Go! Go! Chichico! respectively) and plenty of dialogue. More books in the series are planned for later in the year, with titles by Ian Beck, Malorie Blackman and Michael Morpugo.
Forthcoming are new stories for 8-12 year-olds (reading age 8 years), including two very funny alternative fairy tales by Kaye Umansky. The Queen’s Tale, a retelling of sorts of ‘Snow White’ told from the viewpoint of the wicked stepmother, and The Wickedest Witch in the World, which completely takes the sting out of ‘Hansel and Gretel’ by turning the tale on its head. Further titles for this age group will be published in May and include stories by Anne Fine and Jeremy Strong.
Barrington Stoke’s teen list deals with subject matter appropriate to a YA readership while being accessible in language and design presentation. Again, authors are prestigious, and have created stories that even the most sophisticated readers will relish. Bali Rai’s hard-hitting and thought-provoking Shivers, published earlier this year, involves murder and violence. Set on an estate, it is a story with revenge – and the unlocking of secrets – at its heart. Equally unnerving is Keith Gray’s You Killed Me!, in which the body of a stranger, a victim of a road accident, comes to life to pursue a young boy, thereby dislocating his sense of time and causality.
Utterly different in content and mood is Meg Rossof’s hilarious and extraordinarily original Moose Baby, published this month. It deals with teenage pregnancy, but since the newborn is a moose, it allows for some very funny predicaments, witty observations – and poignant moments. Also published in March are Sally Nicholls’ A Lily, A Rose and Malorie Blackman’s Jon for Short – two novels at opposite ends of the interest spectrum. A Lily, A Rose is an historical novel, set in the 1300s, which deals with first love and relies on the (female) narrator’s thoughts and dialogue to move the story forward. By contrast, Jon for Short is a dark and claustrophobic thriller. Utterly compelling, and relying on the skilful use of repetition to build suspense, it tells of a young boy in hospital convinced that he is surrounded by staff who wish him evil and strip him of his limbs.
In these varied, extraordinarily rich stories for young people, there is no dumbing down or sense of patronage towards the reader. They are all beautifully written – and structured – with powerful themes and storylines that impinge on the mind.
By emphasising the importance of good storytelling, Barrington Stoke has produced an exceptional list – and one with huge appeal to a wide readership. By focusing, too, on presentation, it has ensured that children and young people with reading problems have access to these great stories. Happy Birthday, Barrington Stoke!