The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie by Muriel Spark

If you were looking for a novel that captures the popular essence of Edinburgh in the 1930s, there’s a fair chance you would light upon The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie.  Whilst it’s possible that more people remember the film than the book, Muriel Spark’s best-known novel lives on in the collective memory.

It’s difficult to understand why yet another edition should be thought necessary; there already exists a plethora.  However, this one, published by Barrington Stoke, another fixture in the Edinburgh literary scene, is slightly different.  Not in terms of the text, I hasten to add.  It is complete and comes to us direct from the mind and pen of Dame Muriel.

Barrington Stoke has produced a super-readable edition.  This is the publisher’s own description.  The weight of the paper is heavier than is usual, the typeface is one that is specially created to assist reading, the pages are yellow and the text black, the typeface is larger than normal and the spacing is generous.  None of this will surprise those who know Barrington Stoke’s work.

The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie is the fourth in a series of dyslexia-friendly classics, a relatively recent departure for the publisher and one designed to make more books more accessible to more readers.  Long may it continue!

Kate Greenaway Medal

Alongside the Carnegie Medal sits its sister prize the CILIP Kate Greenaway Medal.  The nominations list for it has also been published today.  The nominating and judging process is the same for the two awards and you can read about it in my previous blog.

Once again this list is varied and I’m delighted that many non-picture books are included.  Having said that, I am probably most pleased to see When Sadness Comes to Call by Eva Eland on the list.  I’ve written about it elsewhere.  It’s a book about depression and anxiety for small children.  That makes it sound heavy and forbidding but it’s not.  It’s gentle and calming and reassuring.

An Illustrated Treasury of Scottish Castles illustrated by Kate Leiper and published by Edinburgh’s Floris Books is possibly my pick of the rest.  I love Kate’s style and use of colour and the way her illustrations work so well with Theresa Breslin’s text.  (And she’s a Lossiemouth quine too! (Kate, that is.)

I had the pleasure of working with Emma Shoard at this year’s Edinburgh International Book Festival which makes me even happier to see her nominated for Good Boy published by Edinburgh-based Barrington Stoke and written by the late and lamented Mal Peet.  Not even Emma or Mal’s wife Elspeth was quite sure how to read Good Boy (that’s one of its joys) so Emma was faced with having to interpret it in an open way.  And she has succeeded stunningly.

And there’s The Dam by Levi Pinfold.  His illustrations are so evocative that you almost don’t need David Almond’s words.  But if you didn’t have them you’d be missing utter brilliance.  They absolutely can’t be separated from each other, a case of the whole being more than the sum of its parts.

There are plenty of other great books on the list and you can see them here:

You have until June to decide what decision you think the judges should make.

Back to Barrington Stoke

Yes, I know. There’s been an almighty break in service from me.  My life has taken some interesting turns in the last six months but I’m back now.  And I’m back living in Edinburgh, my birthplace.  It’s also the home of Barrington Stoke, publishers extraordinaire, so it seems fitting for me to start with the phase with two of their books.

McTavish Takes the Biscuit is the third story in Meg Rosoff’s series about the Peachey family’s rescue dog.  In it poor McTavish feels obligated to save the family from Pa Peachey’s baking. But even the most devoted dog can only eat so much.  Clearly something must be done.  But then disaster, in the form of a town bake-off, strikes.  Pa is confident of his ability to win, a confidence his long-suffering family think misplaced.  Only McTavish can save the day – which he does with the help of Betty and a misplaced ball.

As ever, Meg has written a satisfying story full of fun and family.  There’s a warmth to the relationships and an enjoyable story arc.  Young readers will be engrossed by the characters and plot whether or ot they have met the cast before. This is another book in the Conkers series designed to help children continue to develop their reading.

New to the Little Gems collection is Special Delivery by Jonathan Meres.  Little Gems books are for readers just underway on their own and they’re a diverse lot.  Frank starts helping his big sister Lottie with her paper round to so he can earn some money for a new bike.  Together they enjoy being out early in the summer holidays and Frank makes an exciting new friend.

Mary, the elderly lady Frank meets, has dementia and Jonathan Meres introduces the subject sensitively in the context of a very readable story.  The book is short but still well developed in plot and character and is enhanced by Hannah Coulson’s illustrations.

It’s no secret that I’m hugely enthusiastic about Barrington Stoke’s books and I’m delighted to have these to add to my collection and share with children.


Christmas Day

DE Stevenson was a best-selling author of her day, the mid-twentieth century. She wrote romances and family stories often with a bit of an edge. A number of different publishers have re-issued her titles recently but it’s also possible to buy first editions of many of the books. She’s another author that Mum read and collected; I read them intermittently over the years and kept Mum’s collection after her death. I have lots of favourites: Charlotte Fairlie, The Blue Sapphire and Katherine Wentworth spring easily to mind. But my choice for this list settled on Listening Valley. I like the settings, the heroine and the meandering story without any real plot. I feel as though I’ve just stepped into someone else’s life when I read it.

And finally we come to Until We Win. It has so much going for it: written by Linda Newbery, published by Barrington Stoke and with a plot about the campaign for votes for women, it ticks loads of boxes. But actually it’s a self-indulgent choice as it’s dedicated to me. I never ever imagined that an author, a well-respected, prize-winning one at that, would even consider dedicating a book to me. And on days when I feel disheartened by my impending redundancy it helps me to remember that maybe I have made a difference through my work.

Armistice Runner by Tom Palmer

From my publishing favourite Barrington Stoke comes this young novel to mark the one hundredth anniversary of the Armistice.  It’s the story of three generation and the memories that unite them. Lily is a fell runner – fairly successful but never quite winning.  To add to her worries about that is the realisation that her Gran has Alzheimer’s.  At times she is still quite lucid but her health is gradually deteriorating.  And then there’s Ernest, Gran’s Grandfather.  His wartime story has been long forgotten but a chance remark triggers Gran’s memories.

Ernest’s story is fascinating, simply but evocatively told, conjuring up images of the battle-weary landscape and men of the Western Front.  It is poignant in its matter-of-factness.  And it is nicely interwoven with Lily’s present day story of rivalry, competition and worry about the future.  In between sits Gran looking back and drawing the past into the present.  Tom Clohosy Cole’s illustrated footers add to the sense of continuation that the story engenders.

I read this in one sitting as any confident young reader might do.  But less fluent readers will not find it daunting, and the story is split into well-paced and satisfying chapters.  This is ideal for personal reading but it would also be a good choice for a group read with much to discuss and think about between sessions.

Two from Barrington Stoke

Barrington Stoke never fails to impress me.  As a publishing house it is constant and consistent in its efforts to make great stories available to as many readers as possible.  It is known as the publisher for books supporting children and young people with dyslexia.  In my day job managing library services for this group, Barrington Stoke is my first thought when asked by anxious parents or teachers what I can suggest.  And the people who work for the company – both the permanent staff and their contracted authors – are passionate about what they produce.

Therefore I am always eager to receive review copies of what they produce.  And in this they never let me down either!  Currently I have four of their titles on my desk.  Two, although they have a reading age of eight, are very definitely teenage books.  They are True Sisters by Keren David and Firebird by Elizabeth Wein.

I met Keren a few years ago at the Edinburgh International Book Festival.  In preparation I read her books for the first time and enjoyed them.  So when I saw True Sisters I was very happy to have something else by her to read.  It’s Ruby’s story: of a complicated family set-up, an ever-changing household of foster siblings, a passion for performance and a secret hidden even from herself.  And it’s Clara’s story: of a troubled family, an unawareness of the world, fear and bewilderment and an entirely new way of living.  Somehow the girls each find a path through their lives, stumbling though it maybe and by the end of the book both feel there is hope in their lives.

I should have met Elizabeth two years ago at Edinburgh but instead I was flirting with death back home in Moray.  I was gutted to miss chairing her event.  In preparation I had traumatised myself reading The Pearl Thief and Codename Verity, both of which affected me deeply.  Firebird is completely different but no less powerful  It is Nastia’s story, the story of a young woman at war in a man’s world, a pilot fighting for the Motherland, the daughter of revolutionary parents.  It is also the story of a truth long hidden and its far-reaching consequences.

I’m whole-heartedly recommending both of these whether you’re a teenager or adult and whether or not you have any reading difficulties.  As you would expect from two such talented writers and a prestigious publisher they are excellent novels and deserve a place on library shelves and in private collections.



My Name is Not Refugee by Kate Milner

No Refugee

Barrington Stoke’s imprint The Bucket List has published My Name is Not Refugee by Kate Milner. On the front cover is a quote from Jacqueline Wilson: ‘A much-needed, lovely book for small children which explains the refugee crisis in a simple, child-friendly way.’  That’s a great description of this gentle and understated picture book full of calming illustrations in soothing, muted colours.