Monday 14 August 2023

Short Story Gems from Barrington Stoke Books

Some of the best stories we've read this year have been published by Barrington Stoke Books. Dylexia-friendly and perfect for a reluctant reader, these books are much shorter than your average middle-grade novel but still contain the same engaging and age-related content. They also have an accessible layout and font, making them super-readable, and are usually written by already established authors.
Thanks to NetGalley, we always jump at the chance to review these books. The lower word count makes the stories faster-paced than others and ensures they have a tight and gripping story arc. There's a wide range of different genres on offer, ensuring there is something for every reader. However, there isn't one we haven't enjoyed yet...

Bertie and the Alien Chicken by Jenny Pearson, illustrated by Alexsei Bitskoff

Published by: Barrington Stoke, 5th January 2023


This has to be one of the most funny, insightful and poignant books we've read. We're already a huge fan of Jenny Pearson but this is writing at its most brilliant. Set on his uncle's farm, Bertie's view of the world is about to be challenged in the wackiest way possible...

Bertie does not want to spend his summer on Long Bottom Farm. But his stay takes an unexpected turn when he meets Nugget, an alien chicken. Nugget has been charged with finding Earth's most valuable resource so he can transport it back to Nurgle 7. But if Nugget can't work out what that is, Earth will be destroyed. Can Bertie help the chicken to find answers before it's too late?

This is a dialogue-fuelled text that's full of hilarious banter. And yet, who'd have thought that a story about a boy and an alien chicken could tackle the biggest questions of life? Just what is Earth's most valuable resource and is it something that Nugget can steal? The ensuing discussions between Bertie and Nugget are laugh-out-loud and thought-provoking, providing the perfect balance of humour and heart. This is a text I would encourage everyone to read and which I would take into as many classrooms as possible

Budgie by Joseph Coelho and Dave Barrow

Link to Waterstones

Published by: Barrington Stoke, 6th April 2023


This is a gorgeous short story about community, connecting with neighbours and grief. Joseph Coelho is another favourite author of ours because he evokes emotion in everything he writes. 

Miles is fed up of his neighbour, Mr. Buxton, always telling him off for climbing trees and having fun. But when Miles finds an escaped budgie, he also unexpectedly finds a way to connect with his cantankerous neighbour.

Budgie instantly took me back to the time my grandparents had a budgie, filling me with a childhood nostalgia and memories of climbing trees, grumpy neighbours and friendship. 

The connection between Mr. Buxton and Miles is not only touching but encourages those intergenerational friendships which seem to be so undervalued in society. As the elderly are forgotten, so are their stories. Yet Mr. Buxton reminds us that we can learn so much from older people and their experiences and that they need connection too. 

Nightjar by Katya Balen, illustrated by Richard Johnson

Published by: Barrington Stoke, 1st June 2023

Katya Balen novels are always exquisitely written, warm and insightful and Nightjar is no exception. In this wonderful story, every page is jam-packed with emotion, heart and beauty.
Noah's dad lives in America. They rarely see each other and barely get on because they don't understand each other. But when Noah's dad visits and the pair find an injured nightjar, Noah is determined to help it. Can his nurturing of the nightjar also set the broken relationship he has with his dad  on a path of healing? 

Through this story, Balen speaks to any reader who has experience of challenging relationships, evoking hope and possibility that these relationships can change and evolve. There are also some interesting themes around nature, wildlife and whether it is okay to help and intervene. I particularly enjoyed the fact that both Noah and his dad had to compromise and challenge their flaws in order to move forward with their relationship. There is something beautifully delicate about the story and it's a text I will return to again and again. Inspiringly excellent.

Crow by Nicola Skinner, illustrated by Rebecca Bagley

Published: 6th July 2023

The front cover sold this story to us before we'd even read the blurb. Spooky and slightly sinister without being too scary, Crow is a great tale about the difficulties of new beginnings.

When Hattie starts a new school, she quickly decides that she doesn't fit in. To protect herself and her secret den, she builds a scarecrow and orders him to guard them. 

Crow loves watching the other children have fun but orders are orders and he has to take them seriously. But as his behaviour gets scarier, Hattie finds herself becoming more and more isolated. Has she made a terrible mistake?

This is an entertaining tale about fitting in. Although Hattie, at times, comes across as unlikeable, Nicola Skinner keeps the reader connected to her by making her inner thoughts and feelings relatable. In contrast to Hattie's gruffness, we found Crow totally endearing, even when he was at his scariest. This was because we knew he wanted to be something different, and because of the brilliant way Rebecca Bagley brought Crow to life in the illustrations. 

This is a fun story full of atmosphere and tension, perfect for the start of a new school year or for anyone struggling to make friends. We didn't want to say goodbye to Crow and thought there was masses of potential for further stories...

Calling the Whales by Jasbinder Bilan, illustrated by Skylar White

Published: 6th July 2023, Barrington Stoke


Perfect for fans of Hannah Gold's The Lost Whale, Jasbinder Bilan has penned a dramatic and touching story with a strong ecological message. Set in Scotland, it is a race against time to see if Tulsi and Satchen can save a whale caught up in fishing gear. 

When Tulsi and Satchen set off in a boat to their favourite remote island, they soon find themselves embroiled in a desperate rescue mission. A whale is ensnared in the shallows and, with no way of calling for help, it's up to them to save it. 

But when a vicious storm hits, it's not long before Tulsi and Satchen realise that they are the ones in serious danger. But is it too late for anyone to help them?

This is a lovely, gentle story about nature and friendship and about the bonds humans can forge with animals. Tulsi and Satchen demonstrate the level of love and care we should all have for the planet's wildlife, albeit in the most hair-raising way possible. Jasbinder Bilan doesn't let this slide, however, by showing us the dangers of the elements. 

There's some beautiful descriptions of the setting throughout the book and we particularly loved Tulsi and Satchen's friendship. There are also some tender family issues for the characters to deal with, which adds an extra layer to the story. If you're looking for something powerful and enchanting, then this could be one for you.

The Storm and the Minotaur by Lucy Strange, illustrated by Pam Smy

Lucy Strange combines history with myth in this heart-stopping story about a young boy who works in a coal mine. 

George's dad is super proud that his son is about to join him in the coal mine. But George doesn't want to work in the mine that was responsible for his death of his uncle.

Stuck in the dank, darkness that comes with being underground, George begins to see a strange figure. And when everyone is placed in sudden and desperate peril, George must make a quick decision. Should he put his trust in the creature or not?

This is an enthralling story based on both Theseus and the Minotaur and a true-life mining event which Lucy Strange writes about at the back of the book. For me, reading this information only made the story more powerful and poignant, as we step back in time and experience what it was like to be a young miner. 

Merging fact and fiction felt very clever. It gave the story a magical feel, full of atmosphere and intrigue, which made it easier to digest the uncomfortable reality of George's daily life. It also reignited my respect and empathy for people in the past; honest, hard-working people who grafted everyday in difficult conditions. 

This is a double history lesson in one and we highly recommend it. 

A big thanks to NetGalley and Barrington Stoke for allowing us review copies of the above books

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