Photo taken by Tim Pierce 2007, A Child Reading in Brookline Booksmith, an independent bookstore in Boston, Massachusetts

On the 20th of September Ailsa Bathgate, the editorial director at Barrington Stoke, spoke at the Bookseller’s Children Conference 2021. The day’s theme was ‘The New Normal’ and investigating how books can be adapted to accommodate children who perhaps face learning difficulties, such as dyslexia.

As seen in the newspaper articles presented by Bathgate, children’s learning has been severely impacted by the Covid-19 pandemic and many are entering secondary school without being able to read at that level. Unfortunately, 1.5 million children are in danger of not being able to speak or read at the level that is expected of their age and school level. It is important to note that children from a disadvantaged background experienced an extra month of learning loss as a result of the pandemic and are therefore at an even bigger disadvantage at school. One in eight children who come from disadvantaged backgrounds do not even own a book. Because of isolated learning, both parents and teachers were able to discover that some children struggle with reading and thus turned to Barrington Stoke for help.

Barrington Stoke is an independent and award-winning children’s publisher based in Edinburgh, Scotland. In 2007 it won the IPG award for Children’s Publisher of the Year, and in 2016 the Alison Morrison Diversity Award. While Barrington Stoke is not an educational publisher, its purpose is to provide children with easily readable books, as they do not want children to struggle with literacy.

Bathgate separated children into two categories, those who cannot read and those who will not read. The “cannot read” category included children who are dyslexic, who have visual perceptive, eye, or language issues, and those who have somehow missed the basics. Children in the “will not read” category usually consider reading boring, have a short attention span, or have general negative perceptions of books. Barrington Stoke is dedicated to releasing books that cater to the needs of children from both these categories.

Barrington Stoke work hard to make sure that the way their books are written and designed can be read by all. Firstly, while their books are shorter, the story needs to be equally as strong as a book twice its length and its cover needs to be as appealing. Their authors do not tailor their books for dyslexic readers, but rather an expert goes through their work and makes any changes necessary. The book’s font is designed by eye and dyslexia experts, the paper is tinted and thicker, and illustrations appear throughout the book to help with comprehension. These are only some of the measures that Barrington Stoke take to make all their books accessible and they highlight that feedback is important to their work.

Bathgate ended her talk by posing an important question to publishers, “Wouldn’t it be just wonderful if we could all work together to ensure that more publishers were able to make their books as accessible as possible, enabling more children to read more?”. Why is this not standard practice? As members of the publishing industry who value the importance of reading, it is important to follow Barrington Stoke’s lead, and publish books that have been adapted for children who may face learning difficulties, rather than marginalising them.