A new Edinburgh children's publisher is set to entice reluctant readers. Barrington Stoke will produce its first batch of six books for eight to 13 year olds next month.
Patience Thomson, chairman of the company and former special school headteacher, says: "In the past reluctant readers have often been shortchanged. So we have set out to publish books with gripping story lines, but written in such a way that reluctant readers will find it much easier to follow the text."
Barrington Stoke was initially conceived for dyslexic children, but has sought to broaden its appeal. The books are still printed on cream rather than white paper to help dyslexics. And a type font, Stoke, has been designed for increased clarity.
Illustrations on every page are meant to fix the story in the minds of readers who find it hard to remember meaning while struggling with the words.
Lucy Juckes, the managing director and former deputy director of the Edinburgh Book Festival, says the books will not look like school readers. "They won't be embarrassing for the children. If we editors had a plaque above our head it would read: don't be patronising."
Barrington Stoke has pound;3,000 from the Scottish Arts Council to evaluate the first titles. Teachers and pupils will give feedback.
"We're not so interested in what they think of the story as about its language and presentation," Lucy Juckes says.
Children have already been involved before publication. They were "flabbergasted" that anybody was seeking their opinion, and their criticisms have proved valuable. For example, they rejected the sentence "And so it was." They asked "so it was what?" The first six authors are all well known - Alison Prince, Michael Morpurgo, Mary Hoffman, Adele Geras, Vivian French and Colin Dowland. "We didn't set them rules or give them a word bank," Ms Juckes says. "But it was a challenge for them and they really liked facing it."
Alison Prince's book Screw Loose is about a screwdriver who can take a whole school apart. She told The TESS: "As a former teacher, I have experience catering for the needs of this kind of readership. You shouldn't artificially restrict the vocabulary, but each word has to count. Make it punchy and don't use subordinate clauses."
Barrington Stoke is supposed to have been an itinerant storyteller who told stories to children in the flickering light of his lantern. Lucy Juckes says many people claim to have heard of Stoke, but in fact the publishers invented him.