Last week, I made my way to the lovely town of Frome in Somerset to meet with Barry Cunningham of The Chicken House.
Most people know the story of Barry Cunningham, the man who published 'Harry Potter'; I wanted to find out more about 'The Chicken House' and most importantly- why Somerset?!
Barry had moved his family from London to a village in Somerset and was looking for somewhere to locate his company. Frome seemed the idea location partly because it had a good communication network- but more importantly, because of the nature of the town. Frome is a very individual place with many independent businesses and lots of artists, writers and craftspeople living in it so it seemed like a good choice. And as everyone has been so welcoming and supportive, he made the right decision!
The name 'The Chicken House' came from an old chicken coop on wheels that was in the garden of the house he bought. His children used to play in it when young so he thought the name was a nice idea which would work for both older and younger children. The original website was Double Cluck which offered 'free range books for kids' keeping the image going!
In 2005, The Chicken House was bought by Scholastic, but each company publishes a slightly different range and Barry is still very much at the heart of Chicken House, only selecting books he likes. As a result, he is really proud of everything they publish.
From all the stories that are sent to the company, Barry looks for those with a voice that connects with the reader. Another key element is a good villain- whether that is a human, bullying, illness-whatever the 'hero' needs to overcome.
One very individual feature of Chicken House books is the 'Try it! Read page...' suggestion on the back cover. When a bookseller, Barry noticed that children often picked up a book and read the first page which doesn't always give the best impression of the story. One girl he spoke to said she always read page 40 to test a story! Thinking this was a great idea, he refined it to Chicken House's classic 'taster page' which gives a good feel for the book.
Chicken House offers a great range of titles with something for everyone.Three I have read recently are 'Lydia' by Natasha Farrant, 'Rose in the Blitz' by Rebecca Stevens and 'Black Powder' by Ally Sherrick. All very different- but all great reads! Reviews to come soon.
Many thanks to Barry Cunningham and staff at The Chicken House for making me so welcome.