Here at Barrington Stoke we know that there are many children out there who struggle with reading and don’t have access to accessible, age-appropriate books. Just last year we took a look at a report on children’s reading that suggested that children at the top end of primary who read below level are routinely given infant readers to work on.
This is why we are so lucky to have a team of specialist book reps across the country who take the books into schools and school libraries so that teachers and librarians can see the concept and the features for themselves up close. Nothing beats seeing a book in person, and hearing from an experienced book expert. In this short blog series we speak to the reps themselves and find out what life is like on the road.
Today we’re speaking to Audrey Wright who looks after South Yorkshire LAs of Rotherham, Barnsley, Sheffield, Doncaster, Wakefield, Lincolnshire, East Riding, Hull, North Nottinghamshire and Derbyshire.
How long have you been a rep and how did you get started?
I started in 2000 by responding to an ad in the local paper. I had been a primary school teacher and had given up a permanent job to go on supply while I considered my next move. I had never intended teaching forever and it seemed like a good time to make a change. I suppose it was a bit of a mid life crisis.
Why do you think it’s important for a teacher to see books up close before he or she buys?
There is no substitute for actually holding and looking through the pages of a book. You find out so much that you can’t tell from an online catalogue, such as the thickness, colour and quality of the paper, the way the book is held together, teachers can even try books out on passing students to judge their appeal.
Why do you carry the Barrington Stoke list?
When I was a teacher there was always a dearth of really good quality books that were age appropriate but easy and appealing enough for the weaker older readers and dyslexic students. Over the years I heard the name Barrington Stoke on a regular basis in my appointments with SENCos and was delighted when I got the opportunity to represent them.
Do you think the profile of high interest, low reading-age books is as high as it needs to be, or not?
Much better than it used to be but still a way to go.
What sort of mileage do you do in a typical year, and do you enjoy the travel?
I have tried to cut down on mileage since becoming a freelance rep but will go very long distances when a school has asked specifically to see a rep. Otherwise I tend to concentrate on my local area schools with occasional forays further afield to see regular customers. I used to enjoy the travel more than I do nowadays. I used to do 500 miles a week easily, sometimes far more.
Have you got any funny stories about being out on the road?
I once tripped over my trolley and fell flat on my face at the feet of a Head of English I had come to see; luckily only my pride was hurt, she placed an order and afterwards I found it easy to make further appointments with her over the years (until she moved out of my area), she certainly remembered me!
Has the job of a schools rep got more difficult over the years?
Definitely. We all receive so many unwanted phone calls these days so can understand why school secretaries give us a frosty reception when we call schools wishing to speak to heads of department but it makes it very difficult. Secretaries frequently say that we have to get in touch by email. Emails only work if you already know the person that you are emailing. When I began working as a school rep in 2000 you could almost always get to speak to the person you needed and seeing a rep was the norm so appointments were not hard to make. You could even call in to a school unannounced and sometimes take an order there and then. That wouldn’t happen now for a variety of reasons; impulse buys would be frowned upon as planned purchases must be on the School Development Plan. Schools have to be more secure nowadays but electric gates, high fences, buzzers, security codes, car park barriers all make life difficult when trying to visit a school. And once in the grounds finding somewhere to park near the entrance, or at all, can be very difficult since all schools now employ far more people than they used to do, many of whom come to work by car.
Which of the books on the Barrington Stoke list is your favourite?
This is a tough one for me, so I have chosen favourites in various categories. My favourite Little Gems are Blamehounds and The Fish in the Bathtub, my favourite primary title is Desirable by Frank Cottrell Boyce. This book is so brilliantly written that I made my husband and son read it as soon as I had finished it. As for teen fiction favourites, reading age 8, I couldn’t make up my mind so chose three. For a WW1 story which will have you reaching for the tissues you can’t beat Linda Newberry’s Tilly’s Promise; Brace Mouth, False Teeth by Sita Brahmachari is a brilliant story about developing empathy between teens and old people and I couldn’t leave out the chilling and thought provoking On the Edge by Nigel Hinton.
Many thanks to Audrey Wright for this interview. If you’re interested in having Audrey or another one of our School Reps visit your school please contact us with your details.