As a school librarian I’m often asked for help from parents for reluctant and struggling readers. When this happens my first port of call is always books by the publisher Barrington Stoke. Not only do they publish books by some of the most popular and brilliant authors and illustrators but they have lots of extra features that make them super readable. They are specifically designed to help support children who may struggle to develop good literacy skills for a variety of different reasons such as dyslexia or simple reluctance to want to read. Their accessible layouts, spacing and paper make for an easier reading experience and are expertly edited to ensure unnecessary words don’t hinder comprehension while the text will still challenge the reader. These books have been incredibly popular with all the children at school not just our reluctant readers with books from the Little Gems collection featuring weekly in our storytime sessions. Books are available for all age groups and today I am sharing with you some highlights from Barrington Stoke that I have really enjoyed reading this year.
I shared ‘Special Delivery,’ last term at school with my year 3 classes at their weekly library sessions and it managed to entertain the children and create an opportunity to explore our thoughts and experiences with dementia. Frank is desperate for a bike and his Mum (as Mums do) reminds him that money doesn’t grow on trees, it’s not his birthday, it’s definitely not Christmas so he will need to save up for his own bike. Enrolled by his sister to help with her paper round to earn some money, they come across an old lady who loves everything to do with cowboys. One day they find their new friend lost and confused, she’s forgotten where she lives and is looking for her sister. Realising she needs help Frank steps in to help a hand. . At first the children found the old lady’s confusion funny but then they soon realised that something else was happening and it allowed us to gently explore what can be a difficult subject to share with younger children. Jonathan has created a truly special story highlighting how kindness and thoughtfulness can make a difference to those who are struggling, Hannah’s vibrant and appealing illustrations capture the heart of this story perfectly.
Katherine Woodfine is back with another Little Gems book celebrating the life of another female pioneer, in this imagined telling of the early life of Sophie Blanchard, the world’s first female hot-air balloonist. Sophie is scared of absolutely everything, mice, spider, thunderstorms, the dark and is named, ‘Scaredy-Cat Sophie,’ by her friends and family. When a balloonist comes to the town fair Sophie is inevitably left behind leaving her longing to be there but too afraid to face her fears. But her overwhelming desire to see the hot-air balloon forces her to be brave for the first time in her life and she soon discovers that things are not always as awful as they first seem. This inspiring and charming tale completely delighted me, it is filled with gentle humour and is wonderfully empowering, encouraging children to find their inner courage. Briony May Smith’s exquisite illustrations make this lovely story even more covetable capturing the change in Sophie’s persona magnificently. Another absolute gem in this wonderful collection, which I envisage being thoroughly enjoyed at school.
I was thrilled to discover that Lisa Thompson had written a novella for Barrington Stokes older collection, for me she is an extraordinary writer who manages to deal with the most complex themes in a empathetic and sensitive way. In ‘Owen and the Soldier,’ it becomes immediately clear that Owen and his mum are really struggling. Owen feels like he has no one to talk to and nowhere to go. Drawn to the peace of the memorial garden Owen starts to confide in a crumbling stone statue. For once he has someone who can listen without judging him. But his sanctuary is about to be shattered when the town council decide to remove the soldier, can Owen find a way to speak up when he is drowning in his own personal battle. I was completely overcome by how much emotion Lisa packed into this small but perfectly formed book, dealing once again sensitively and thoughtfully with difficult issues. I found myself in tears and completely moved by Owen’s story. Mike’s illustrations give this story a gently lift allowing the reader to feel hope when life is desperately sad for Owen. I think this story needs to be in every school library, encouraging the reader to reflect on the past and having empathy for those who face dark times and are in need of our help.
Lauren James is an essential part of my most loved shelves. Her ability to create stories that are truly incredible never ceases to amaze me and ‘The Starlight Watchmaker,’ is her first book for Barrington Stokes teen reads collection. Featuring all of Lauren’s trademark brilliance, conjuring up worlds that go beyond the realms of our imagination and challenging everything we think is possible this is a true joy to behold. Hugo, an abandoned android, world collides with wealthy and privileged Dorian when he demands he fixes his broken time-travel watch. But they soon discover that something sinister is afoot that could jeopardise their entire planet, can they find a way to use their differences to overcome this threat? This extraordinary tale combines futuristic storytelling with an exploration of how we treat different members of our society and highlights how easy it is for divisions to occur. Fast-paced, frenetic and once again featuring Lauren’s amazing ability to surprise the reader, this is another superb story. I was totally dazzled by Lauren’s incredible imagination and her ability to deliver a compelling read in such a short story.
Thank you to Barrington Stoke for sending me gifted copies of all of these books in exchange for an honest review. You can buy them now online (click on the title) or from any good bookshop. ‘Sophie Takes to the Sky,’ is released on the 15th September and is available to pre-order.