A new book by North East bestselling author David Almond may not be be the most substantial he has had published, at just 57 pages, but it could certainly change a life or two.
Klaus Vogel and the Bad Lads is David’s first book published by Edinburgh-based Barrington Stoke which targets struggling, reluctant or dyslexic readers.
The publisher also makes a point of working with top authors, believing its intended readership deserves and benefits from the best in the writing business.
As the winner of the biggest prizes in children’s literature, including the Carnegie Medal and the Hans Christian Andersen Award, David certainly fits the bill.
Ever since he attracted wide attention with Skellig in 1999, he has burnished a reputation for good stories with lots of action, a strong moral tone and often a dash of magic.
“I used to teach kids with special needs and it used to be hard to find interesting material for them,” says David.
“What Barrington Stoke do is get really good writers to write books for them and they design them in certain ways to appeal to kids who have trouble reading.
“They’ve asked me a couple of times over the years but I didn’t really have anything. But this is a story coming out in a story collection later this year and they really loved it.
“I’ve dedicated it to the excellent school I used to work for in North Shields. It seemed a great opportunity to do that.”
This is Southlands School, described on its website as “a senior school for children with moderate learning difficulties, a number of whom have associated social, emotional and behavioural difficulties or other more complex needs”.
David, who taught there before the success of Skellig enabled him to write full-time, says it was hard to find published stories that were written in simple, direct language but were also gripping.
Klaus Vogel and the Bad Lads has seven short chapters and can be read in 10 minutes by an accomplished reader. But it has well-drawn characters and a lot happens. It has a beginning, a middle and a satisfying end with the good guy coming up trumps.
The story tells of a little gang of 13-year-olds. “We called ourselves the Bad Lads, but it was just a joke,” asserts the narrator.
“We were mischief-makers, pests and scamps. We never caused proper trouble – at least, not till that autumn.”
That was when Klaus Vogel, a German refugee, arrives. Naturally he attracts the attention of the Bad Lads whose ringleader Joe, a little older than the others, has started to make the gang’s name seem a little less jokey.
Far from spending their time playing football and trying to emulate their heroes, they have burned down the hedge of old Mr Eustace.
Will Klaus allow himself to be bullied into going along with this bad behviour or will he make a stand?
“The story’s set in in Felling where I grew up,” says David.
“I never knew anybody called Klaus but I did know kids from Poland. I didn’t know it at the time but their parents had come here to escape from the Nazis before the Second World War.
“The idea of a refugee boy coming to Felling seem very strong and it seemed to tie in with things that are going on now with refugees and asylum seekers coming to live here.
“So while the story itself is imaginary, it takes place in real streets and on real playing fields and I suppose it shows that the roots of prejudice, war and conflict can be discovered in the most ordfinary places.”
The slim book has a lot of dramatic, cartoon-like illustrations by Vladimir Stankovic, a Serbian artist based in Finland.
It also has a ‘dyslexia friendly’ sticker. According to Barrington Stoke, this denotes a book with short word lengths, lots of chapter breaks, a special font and cream paper to minimise glare.
Young dyslexia sufferers may, as a result, be introduced in the coming months to the wonderful world of David Almond’s fiction.
The story will also appear in a new anthology of David’s stories, Half a Creature from the Sea, due to be published in September by Walker Books.
:: Klaus Vogel and the Bad Lads by David Almond is published by Barrington Stoke at £6.99.