As a school librarian I have long been a fan of the books published by Barrington Stoke. From their earliest days they have produced stories that are inviting to children, written by top authors, of a length that is not too daunting and including appealing illustrations. Also, and very importantly, they are presented in a style that is dyslexia friendly using a special typeface, extra line spacing and off white paper. Barrington Stoke’s books are therefore popular buys for school libraries and these two new titles are no exception.
Sophie Takes to the Sky by Katherine Woodfine illustrated by Briony May Smith
Part of the Little Gems series aimed at readers aged five to eight this charming story is inspired by a real historical character, balloonist Sophie Blanchard. Katherine Woodfine has created a story that has at its heart the possibility of overcoming fears to aim higher than you think possible so has a very positive message that would reassure and comfort children trying to overcome anxiety.
As the story opens we meet little Sophie living in a small village with her family. She is known for being scared of absolutely everything and is given the nickname ” Scaredy-Cat Sophie” by her sister. When a famous balloonist visits a local town fair Sophie is left behind while everyone else goes to watch him. Sophie is too frightened of riding in the horse drawn carriage to get there, too frightened of the crowds and too frightened of the noise and hubbub of the town. But Sophie is fascinated by the picture of the hot air balloon she has seen and the idea of floating in the sky. Perhaps she can learn to be brave. Wonderful things may happen if she can learn to conquer her fears and no longer be a “scaredy-cat.”
This lovely, touching story is matched by gorgeous illustrations by Briony May Smith which add to the traditional feel of the book, with a rich palette and plenty of detail they will encourage children to linger and look.
I think this is a gorgeous “Little Gem” that will be enjoyed by many readers and would make a delightful introduction to historical fiction.
If you enjoy this type of story you may also like to try Katherine Woodfine’s other Little Gem, Rose’s Dress of Dreams. For older readers, or as a read aloud for a younger age group, Sophie Takes to the Sky links beautifully to Emma Carroll’s Sky Chasers.
A Most Peculiar Toy Factory by Alex Bell illustrated by Nan Lawson
Best selling author Alex Bell combines adventure, mystery and black humour in her novella for Barrington Stoke. Targeted at the eight plus age group this creepy but entertaining story would be perfect for fans of Roald Dahl.
There are sinister rumours surrounding Hoggle’s Happy Toys following its closure five years ago, stories of shadows behind closed doors, sinister teddies and whispering dolls. But when news that the factory is reopening circulates through the town Tess Phipps and her siblings have no choice but to work there if they want to save the family farm. From their arrival on their first day the children realise that the factory does indeed hide dark secrets.
Many children dream of their favourite toys coming to life and sharing adventures with them and this book takes that idea and gives it a slightly sinister twist. It’s a brave move to make teddy bears, so often portrayed as cuddly and loveable, the villains of the piece. Young readers should enjoy the slightly subversive element to the story and Tess is a no nonsense character who tackles the situation with determination. The black and while illustrations throughout the book and the appealing cover are by Nan Lawson. This is recommended for readers who enjoy adventures with twists and a little touch of the sinister.
I would like to thank Kirstin Lamb of Barrington Stoke for providing my review copies.