My admiration for Barrington Stoke as a publisher who believe that every child can be a reader grows year on year. Already in 2021, despite the issues facing the world of children’s publishing including book shops being closed for much of the year so far, they have launched a selection of fantastic books that will appeal to a wide range of readers and are accessible to many more thanks to their dyslexia friendly presentation style.
Just in case you have missed any of their recent titles here is a round up of the ones that I have read and enjoyed this month for different age groups.
The Dog Who Saved the World (Cup) by Phil Earle illustrated by Elisa Paganelli
First up is a book I reviewed a couple of weeks ago but want to highlight as I think it is a particularly important one. This is a special story dealing with the subject of homelessness in a kind and accessible manner. It would be particularly enjoyable for football fans but is a book that has a broad appeal and you can find out why I recommend it so highly by reading my full review here. That it is inspired by true life experiences and situations gives this thoughtful book an added impact. The book has a reading age of 8 and is aimed at a target audience aged 8 – 12.
The Animals of Madame Malone’s Music Hall by Laura Wood illustrated by Ellie Snowdon
One year on from when theatres across the country closed due to the pandemic this sensitive and imaginative story with drama at its core has an added poignancy. Callie is spending the summer with her Gran by the seaside but life isn’t what she expected. She is frustrated and bored stuck helping her Gran’s drama group save their local theatre and worst still she is worried about being expected to star in the forthcoming play. Then when Callie explores backstage one day she discovers a theatrical world like no other which will change her attitude and understanding.
This is a lovely reassuring story for children. It reinforces the importance of belonging to a community with a shared endeavour and also quietly encourages the reader to learn to believe in themselves and their abilities. These are valuable messages at any time but possibly particularly so at the moment. The idea of portal to another world is a long standing favourite of children’s fiction and Laura Wood’s cast of animal characters are charming. The illustrations throughout by Ellie Snowdon bring the characters to life with humour and detail. Another kind book aimed at the 8 -12 audience with a reading age of 8.
The Girl With Her Head in the Clouds by Karen McCombie illustrated by Anneli Bray
Historical fiction has long been one of my favourite genres and Karen McCombie has a knack of making her characters relatable to today’s young readers. She has achieved it again in this re-imagining of a remarkable young woman who became a pioneering aeronaut in the early 20th century.
The subtitle of this book is The Amazing Life of Dolly Shepherd who I admit I knew nothing about but this engaging story is both exciting and interesting. Set in 1904 we meet sixteen year old Dolly who is shortly to start work in her Aunt’s business, the Ostrich Feather Emporium. Dolly has other plans. She volunteers as a stand-in for a dangerous trick at Alexandra Palace and from that moment on her life takes an unexpected turn and a new and thrilling career opens up for her. This is an inspiring story and Dolly a fearless female lead. There are many dangerous moments and close shaves that unnerved this reader who has no head for heights!
A thoroughly enjoyable read this has the added bonus of revealing a little about the historical period and may prompt readers to find out more themselves. I particularly like the illustrations by Anneli Bray which provide a glimpse of Edwardian fashion and life. The Girl With her Head in the Clouds has a reading age of 8 and is suitable for the same audience as the previous titles mentioned.
The Last Hawk by Elizabeth Wein
Set towards the end of the Second World War and the final days of the Nazi regime this compelling story is told from the point of view of a young woman who has become part of their propaganda. Ingrid, a teenager with a stammer, is kept safe from the brutal treatment of those who those in power view as inferior by her flying skills. In the skies this timid girl is transformed and flies the glider planes with confidence and determination. Her talent brings her to the attention of Germany’s daring female test pilot Hanna Retich and her new role alongside Hanna training young pilots reveals to Ingrid some dangerous truths and secrets that gradually prompt her to question what she has been taught and force her to make difficult decisions.
Much of Elizabeth Wein’s writing is inspired by her own love of flying and this well researched novel conveys that love to the reader as the descriptions of flight are vivid and emotive. Hanna Reitsch is real historical figure and it is she who inspired the story but it is Ingrid who perhaps the reader will become involved with. Ingrid’s stammer is a plot detail that influences the story and this aspect is portrayed with sensitivity and provides an insight into the frustration and embarrassment this can cause for some. This is a story that would work well in the classroom prompting discussion about the various historical aspects, the role of women in war and the Nazi regime itself. This is a fascinating and thought provoking read with a reading age of 8 and aimed at a teen audience.
I should like to thank Kirstin Lamb and Barrington Stoke for providing my review copies. All of these books are available to purchase on the publisher’s website.
There are worthy books, which one may admire but not necessarily enjoy, and there are worthwhile books, a joy to read while encouraging one to think about any incidental issues raised. The couple of Barrington Stoke titles I’ve read definitely fall into the ‘worthwhile’ group, and these three sound no exception — being part of a community, being a female pioneer, having a stammer, becoming aware of being used for propaganda, all sound to be embedded in these stories without them being preachy in any way. Thanks for drawing attention to these, Anne.
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You are right, Chris. Particularly when trying to appeal to the child audience ‘worthwhile’ is key, I think. Children can quickly detect a preaching tone and in my experience find it off putting. If a thoughtful theme or message can be conveyed subliminally through storytelling that is wonderful. Barrington Stoke books work because they pair accomplished children’s writers with an excellent editorial team. As you can probably tell I’m a big fan!
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