A collective of bibliophiles talking about books. Book Fox (vulpes libris): small bibliovorous mammal of overactive imagination and uncommonly large bookshop expenses. Habitat: anywhere the rustle of pages can be heard.
I feel like my children do on the night before their birthday. Being old enough to ignore age related celebrations I tend to find other things to excite me – and this piece is one of them. If I go on a little bit, forgive me, but I encourage you all to enthuse, this is a subject worth jumping up and down about.
Barrington Stoke is a specialist publisher, based in my home town of Edinburgh. Really what I want to do is get a loudhailer and yell about their magnificence from every street corner in the land. But since I might get arrested, instead I’ve had a little chat with the fabulous Katherine Naish, Marketing Co-ordinator for Barrington Stoke so that I can share what they do with you (then we’ll talk loudhailers)…
Eve: How did the idea for Barrington Stoke evolve? Tell us a little about the history of the company.
Katherine: The idea for Barrington Stoke was born out of necessity. The company was started a decade ago when our founder, Patience Thomson, retired as head mistress of Fairley House School, a school for children with specific learning difficulties such as dyslexia. She felt that there was a serious lack of ‘real’ books for the less able or struggling reader, quality books with real stories and characters that were age appropriate for the children involved. Her daughter-in-law, Lucy Juckes, was a Sales Director for a publishing company and had the publishing expertise, so Barrington Stoke was born.
Eve: You have a very focussed intention with the books you publish. Who are the titles specifically aimed at and can you explain a little about what you hope they achieve?
Katherine: Barrington Stoke books are for reluctant, dyslexic and struggling readers.
Our books are written for children, reading below their chronological age. Our authors write compelling stories that children love and that are easy to enough to give them confidence and boost their self esteem.
Eve: I notice that you have a very different way of categorising your books from other Publishers. For instance, the gr8reads are aimed at readers aged 12-16 with a reading age of 7, Reloaded are for 10-14s with a reading age of 8 and the FYI series are fiction books with a ton of facts. Why specifically target these criteria? And will these be expanded on in the future?
Katherine: We have two main sets of titles. Fantastic stories written by award winning authors for children aged 8-12 and for teenagers aged 12-16. Our 4u2 read and gr8 read series have been written in response to requests from teachers, librarians and parents asking for books suitable for children reading at a lower reading age. These have proved very popular and later this year we will be publishing two new series of books called Solo and Go!, that are aimed at offering the seriously struggling reader aged 10-14, with a reading age 6-6.5 years, a fresh start with reading.
Our other series, FYI, Reloaded and Reality Check, were written to broaden the range and type of texts available to reluctant readers. The topics chosen link with themes commonly tackled in schools.
Eve: What specifically, with regard to layout do you do that’s different from mainstream literature? And how did you discover what would work?
Katherine: Our books do look subtly different from other children’s books. We incorporate a number of different details in all of our books to make the text as easy-to-read as possible. We have consulted language and dyslexia experts on these details as well as listening to what our readers tell us.
As well as these factors, the book jackets have eye-catching designs.
Importantly, there is no mention of dyslexia or reading age made on the book, so that the child feels comfortable reading the book in class or around friends. For parents and teachers, the series logo on the book is an indicator of reading age and interest age.
Eve: So with all the recent discussion about adding reading age guidance to the covers of children’s books, Barrington Stoke takes the opposing view?
Katherine: The book industry has discussed putting reading ages on books for children, and we have fought against this. Recent industry discussion has shifted toward putting the interest age on the cover of the book, which we would go along with. Our understanding is that the book world will be looking at this issue later on this year, and Barrington Stoke will looking at this idea along with the rest of the industry.
Eve: This seems a ludicrously simple idea and one that any publisher with a love for children’s books should be involved with. I mean what’s more important than including all children in the reading experience? Yet, there seems to be very few other Publishers doing what you do. Why do you think this is?
Katherine: This type of publishing is quite specialised and requires expertise in dyslexia education, which not many other publishers have. The process of publishing our books is also very time consuming! It takes longer to publish a Barrington Stoke title as we have lengthy consultation and language editing process.
Eve: Your titles are all written by already famous authors, for example Michael Morpurgo, Malorie Blackman, Alan Durant, Terry Deary, Kevin Brooks and Philip Ardagh. Do you have any trouble convincing them to write for you?
Katherine: We are very lucky to have such fantastic authors writing for us, and the authors that we do have don’t need to be convinced to write for Barrington Stoke! They definitely can see the importance of having books especially for reluctant and struggling readers.
Well-known authors write all of our books; children who read Barrington Stoke titles will be reading high quality stories by the same authors as read by their friends and classmates.
Eve: You have an unusual way of testing out the effectiveness of the books. Can you explain what you do?
Katherine: Before publication, every Barrington Stoke manuscript is sent to a panel of consultants – this process is what makes Barrington Stoke books different – and unique.
The panel is actually made up of our readers – children of the appropriate interest and reading age. We ask them to read the manuscript and report back to us whether they liked the story, what they didn’t like, and importantly, what words or phrases they found difficult to read. It’s important to us to make sure that the texts are as clear and as helpful as possible for our readers. Up to 50 children might read the text before it is published. The comments are then fed to our team of language editors, who are all experts in dyslexia and language. These editors work with the author to fix all the problems in the text. The consultants, or ‘young editors’ are a crucial part of the process, and really enjoy having an impact on the final work; and each ‘young editor’ gets his or her name printed in the back of the book when published. It’s a great motivator for children who struggle with reading or who have been reluctant to read.
With the launch of our books for emergent adult readers (in the Most Wanted series) we were helped by older teenagers and adults in literacy projects, further education colleges and in young offenders institutes.
Katherine: In the case of one book that we published, one of our young consultants wasn’t keen on one story conclusion so suggested an alternative story ending. The author was so taken with this idea that the ending was changed!
We are lucky that we don’t get many negative comments about the books. But for us, it’s extremely useful to have feedback not only about language issues but also about plotlines. The point of the consultancy process is that we want all feedback about our books – positive and negative! These consultants are our readers, and it’s crucial that we publish stories that they will love to read. If they like the plot, and can read the text without too much difficulty, their reading confidence will be boosted and they will want to pick up another book, and then hopefully another and so on.
Our authors like to hear what the consultants have to say too and are interested in the whole process. We look at the feedback and send the authors general comments. It’s not often that authors have the chance to have such detailed reviews from readers before publication.
Eve: Have you any success stories you can tell us about? Something inspirational?
We receive hundreds of letters, emails and phone calls from parents and teachers about how Barrington Stoke books help their dyslexic, reluctant and struggling reader children and are making them into keen readers. It’s always inspirational for us to hear about children whose reading and interest have been boosted.
For example, we received this from a parent:
“My nine-year-old son has never been interested in reading and it has always been a battle to get him to sit down and concentrate for more than a couple of minutes. However a few weeks ago he came home from school with one of your books and actually asked if I could leave the light on for a while after he’d gone to bed so he could read. He has now read six of your books in a row and spends half an hour every night reading before he goes to sleep and has even sat down to read instead of watching the television on a couple of occasions. I have noticed such a change in him and his teachers have also remarked on the improvement in his reading and concentration, and it’s all thanks to your books.” (Parent)
and this from a teacher in Bradford:
‘These books are superb – I’ve never before had 15 year-old lads groaning because the bell has gone for the end of the lesson!’
Eve: I see you are also publishing adult books, again by already famous authors – how did this come about? And are you finding this successful?
At the end of 2007, we launched our Most Wanted titles, for emergent adult readers with a reading age of 8.
Around 11 million adults in the UK have a reading age of 13 or below – 5 million of these adults have a reading age of 11 or below.
There is a need for new fiction for this group of readers. Much like our books for children, reluctant reader adults need suitably pitched books of an appropriate length, that will help boost their reading confidence. For example, teenagers who have struggled with reading at school then leave school better able to read, but they still need some support with reading. These books are the ideal length to give the reader a fast, fun read that we hope will boost their confidence.
Just like our other books, the Most Wanteds have been through our exacting consultancy process.
We published four Most Wanted titles last year, and will publish four more this year.
Eve: What does the future hold for Barrington Stoke? Any exciting plans to watch out for?
Katherine: Barrington Stoke celebrates its 10th Birthday in June, and in May we have published 12 books in the month rather than our normal four.
We also have some exciting developments for later on this year; we are launching two new series, Solo and Go!, for readers with an even lower reading age. More details of the new titles may be found on our website at www.barringtonstoke.co.uk
In the true spirit of Consumer Testing, I have a number of Barrington Stoke books in my house. Any of them would be a contender for analysis with opening lines such as…
“Behind that door is the most dangerous criminal on the planet.”
“Pssst! Wanna buy an alligator?”
But I’ve chosen Ghosting by Keith Gray for a closer look. Just a little look since it’s a short book with large font and a lot of white space on the page. No reluctant reader could be put off on opening the book, it doesn’t look at all scary – unlike the cover which has a picture of a huge black hand and a body in shadow. Creepy! Ghosting is about a brother and sister team of fake mediums with a convincing act of duping customers into thinking they’re speaking to dead relatives. But when the dead people really start to talk, things begin to get out of hand.
This is a glorious read, so quick, so exciting, so compelling, it’s easy to see why these books work. And there is absolutely nothing about this book that would be off-putting to any older child or teen coming to it with a pre conceived aversion. I can see them being caught up and swept along and scarcely notice that they’re reading. It really is a superb read.
So, in the spirit of pre-birthday excitement I urge you all – go out, spread the word, tell parents, tell teachers, tell parents to tell teachers, tell librarians and booksellers and anyone who’ll listen. Shout about Barrington Stoke. Everyone get out a loudhailer, get on that street corner and tell them all (I’m sure someone will bail us out of jail). We must make it our mission to grab as many people as possible in the hope of reaching just one or two kids who may have missed out on the chance to at least try reading. Some might still hate it which is fair enough, reading isn’t for everyone, but some might just pick up the habit of a lifetime.
Our thanks go to Katherine Naish for sparing the time to do this interview. And we wish a very Happy 10th Birthday to Barrington Stoke.