Visit from Barrington Stoke

February 8th, 2016 | Posted in Blog | Comments Off on Visit from Barrington Stoke

Last semester Stirling University’s publishing students received a visit from Mairi Kidd and Kirstin Lamb of Barrington Stoke, a publishing house in Edinburgh that specialises in books for dyslexic children and reluctant readers. Mairi provided a very interesting talk, on how Barrington Stoke came into being, what its business model is and how it achieves this.

The company was set up in 1998 by a mother and daughter-in-law who recognised that children with dyslexia needed a more user friendly font for their needs than any that were available on the market and decided to commission their own. Their font is designed to reduce ambiguity between characters, making them more distinctive to the eye. Spacing between the characters is also increased, to provide further clarity and the publishers use tinted paper in their books which reduces glare and makes for more comfortable reading.

The books themselves are also shorter than many children’s books. Being faced with hundreds of pages can be daunting for any child and liable to turn reading into a chore rather than an enjoyable and engaging experience. As Mairi said, they produce “snacks not meals”. They also like to work closely with their readers, encouraging feedback on what they could improve to make the books even more readable. What is also very interesting is that Barrington Stoke only commission popular and well known authors to write their books. They have recognised that children who find reading challenging don’t want to be stigmatised by having books which are clearly different from their friends or siblings. Authors include Michael Morpurgo, Malorie Blackman, Jeremy Strong and Anne Fine. A full list of authors can be found on the Barrington Stoke website and it’s an impressive list.

It’s also not just printed books that Barrington Stoke publish. They have recently produced their own e-reading app called Tints which, as the name suggests provides a choice of tinted backgrounds to use with their reader friendly font. In addition, the app has a slide ruler to help with reading and parents can download free samples. Information can be found on their website along with a video of coverage by STV. The app is just one example of how progressive Barrington Stoke are. Mairi explained in her talk that they are now promoting their books as “super readable” other than “dyslexia friendly” which reaches out to a wider audience, particularly as children and adults can find reading challenging for a variety of reasons. As an example, the picture books they produce are just as important to adults. Most children under the age of 5 cannot read for themselves anyway which leaves a parent who finds reading a challenge left with the problem of how they read stories to their child. As Mairi explained to us, many picture books can cause difficulties, such as fonts against dark paper, or words floating across the pages against the normal order of left to right which we expect. Their picture books (Picture Squirrels), follow the normal sequence of left to right and top to bottom for text as well as the reader friendly font and tinted pages.

There is no doubt that the Barrington Stoke books help so many children to overcome the barriers to the enjoyment of reading. One look at their Facebook page confirms that from many happy parents. Mairi said that the founders of the company were given an award for the “stupidest idea in publishing: producing books for people who didn’t want to read!” As it turns out it wasn’t a stupid idea at all. In fact it has just highlighted the fact that they do want to read. They just find it that bit more challenging.

Barrington Stoke really are a team of enthusiastic and inspirational publishers. The talk Mairi gave was so interesting and at times poignant, such as the child who wrote to thank them as she/he could now read a whole book. It was just great to listen to and was really appreciated that they gave up the time to come and speak to the class. They left behind a group of very enthused students!