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Some of the Very Best Gems

For me, every book - from board book to adult novel, whether a work of fiction or book of fact – is a gem, and I wonder if that is where the idea of Barrington Stoke’s Little Gems first came from. Did someone in the office think that very same thought: that every book is a gem and that maybe they could make some little gems especially for their readers? Although this is of course a rhetorical question (unless they are reading this Blog and can leave an answer!) what we do know for certain is that their Little Gems titles are indeed just that. They are a combination of the very best children’s authors and illustrators; a host of clever design techniques and readable, exciting stories that will help young children make the jump from reading schemes to the big wide world of real reading.

This little blog is not just about these books – although the most recent two in the imprint do feature – it is also about some of the latest Barrington Stoke short novels which I have loved and wanted to bring together to share with you.

In making their books accessible, the publishers have not forgotten that they need to make their books fun. They have not forgotten some of the favourite themes that draw children to books: not just great stories, but stories about animals, both real and imaginary. Stories about friends and families. Stories that readers can relate to, stories that start, continue and maybe even finish a series. A good story, a great layout, prose that is not too demanding and an author whose name may be recognizable all offer a guarantee there is more to come.

In one of their most recent Little Gems titles, Barrington Stoke treat us to a Holly Webb kitten tale in The Little Lost Kitten. Lucy and her dad are sad following the loss of their old cat Pat. When a stray kitten appears, Lucy thinks she should keep it a secret – that is until the kitten goes missing and Lucy needs her dad’s help to find him. This is both a touching and charming tale.

Continuing the theme of cute animals, it is impossible not to fall in love with Marisa Morea’s illustrations of Ross Montgomery’s sheep in Sheep School. Can one toe-tapping lamb be big enough and brave enough to save the sheep from the big bad wolf? A clever take on a classic fairy tale.

Meg and Merlin is the third title in Tanya Landman’s series for horse-loving readers. In this instalment, Meg’s dream has come true with the chance to ride Merlin – but how good are her skills on horseback? We are about to find out in this exciting new story.

For those who prefer their animals to be of the mythical variety, Karen McCombie’s The Broken Dragon, illustrated by Anneli Bray, could be just the book. This is not a story of a real dragon but a china one, smashed and in need of repair. As we read and discover more about the Japanese tradition of restoring broke pottery with gold, we also discover a layered story of new schools, new friends and how to take care of our treasures.

School is also the setting for Anne Fine and Gareth Conway’s Next to Alice. Ben and Alice have to sit together in the classroom, but Ben finds Alice scary. After all, she tells him off for his squiggly drawings and his poor handwriting – not to mention his terrible table manners. Will Ben take the time to listen to Alice and discover that she is perhaps not in fact telling him off, but trying to help? This is a charming book about school and friendships, packed with plenty of humour.

And, on a final note – because this one came after I wrote the original piece but is important and special because it is also one of the last books Marcus Sedgwick wrote – I highly recommend Raven Cave which is part of one of Barrington Stoke’s titles for readers aged 11+. A chilling ghost story with plenty of plot twists, this is a book of layered and masterful storytelling which takes us to the ruins of an old farm. James is afraid when he hears laughter echoing around the old farm walls – even more so when the ghost of a young girl appears and urges him to follow her. What will he do when he discovers what she wants him to see? Spooky, clever and a delight to read, this book continues Marcus Sedgwick’s legacy perfectly.

Thank you once again to Barrington Stoke for brightening up our reading shelves with a selection of little gems – not only those in the eponymous imprint, but all their publishing output.

By Louise Ellis-Barrett


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