Barrington Stoke has launched a new picture book list, Red Squirrel Books. As with all Barrington Stoke books, the Red Squirrel picture books are written by the best children’s authors, look great, and there’s an added bonus – a cluster of dyslexia-friendly features in the books that will help parents and carers who do not read confidently to enjoy the books with their children.
It was a meeting with a dyslexic dad at an event back in 2012 that inspired the Red Squirrel picture books list. Barrington Stoke MD Mairi Kidd explains, ‘This chap was really keen to read to his children, but found that picture books seemed especially tough – and his self-confidence had taken a knock since he felt he should be able to read books aimed at young children. We’re all huge picture book fans but hadn’t thought before about the particular challenges picture books can pose for dyslexic or struggling readers. Busy layouts, highly designed typography and playful deviation from the ‘norm’ of reading left-to-right, in straight lines and full paragraphs all add up to a less-than-easy read. And as any picture-book fan knows, texts can be very sophisticated indeed.’
The germ of an idea was planted but it took another conversation to really start the ball rolling, this time with author Michael Morpurgo. ‘Michael has always been a huge supporter of Barrington Stoke and last year worked with us on a series of very low word-count stories for extremely challenged readers in the primary school,’ Kidd explains. ‘At the time he was also involved in a project encouraging imprisoned fathers to record bedtime stories for their children. We realised two things in one conversation: all the tricks we use to support young dyslexic readers should translate to picture books, and the numbers of parents who could benefit are huge – not only those with dyslexia but also less confident readers, learners of English and so on.’
We began to wonder whether it might be possible to produce a range of picture books with extra accessibility features, and soon Red Squirrels were born.
The special features included in the books to increase accessibility for individuals with dyslexia or reading issues include:
A unique dyslexia-friendly font
A gently tinted, detail-free background behind the text to reduce glare and stress on the eye
Slightly increased character spacing to make letters easier to read
Clean syntax to minimise potential obstacles to comprehension
Standard left-to-right and top-to-bottom layout for text to aid with following the story in sequence.
Books to get under your skin
The first two Red Squirrel picture books are out now, both lively, entertaining stories, that will stand alongside the best children’s picture books: All I Said Was by Michael Morpurgo and Ross Collins is a funny, action-packed transformation/ the grass is always greener story in which a boy and pigeon swap places, while in Itch Scritch Scratch by Eleanor Updale and Sarah Horne, a lively rhyming text describes the full horrors of a nit invasion. ‘Ross worked with us to achieve a dyslexia-friendly layout without compromising on the beauty of the artwork and Michael permitted us to tweak the syntax of his story in order to break down any potential barriers to comprehension’, says Kidd, ‘Eleanor and Sarah both worked with us too to implement the lessons learned in working on Michael and Ross’s book.’
The books will be shelved alongside other children’s books with a discreet sticker saying ‘This book helps more families grow a love of reading’.
Barrington Stoke are determined that the books find their way into the hands of families will can benefit from the special features in the books, and in a special launch campaign in association with The Reading Agency and Dyslexia Action, 1,000 copies of the books are being distributed free of charge to family learning centres, libraries and colleges as part of the Reading Agency’s Six Book Challenge for less confident adults readers. Dyslexia Action centres have also had the opportunity to ‘bid’ for free copies for use in projects and copies have been sent to all centres.
Further Red Squirrel books scheduled for publication later in the year include Freddy and the Pig by Charlie Higson and Mark Chambers, and Wolfman by Michael Rosen and Chris Mould.
For further information visit www.redsquirrelbooks.co.uk/”>www.redsquirrelbooks.co.uk
All I Said Was, Michael Morpurgo, illus Ross Collins, 978 1 78112 348 5, £6.99pbk
Itch Scritch Scratch, Eleanor Updale, illus Sarah Horne, 978 1 78112 294 5, £6.99 pbk