HIDDEN away in a quiet corner of Bridgemead, a Swindon firm is working away to spark the imagination of the world’s children.

Child’s Play (International), which marks its 40th anniversary this year, may not be a household name for most parents, but some of its educational and fun children’s books are classics of the genre and instantly recognisable.

Take, for example, such titles as There Was an Old Lady who Swallowed a Fly, which has been in the top five list for nearly 40 years, or Heads, Shoulders, Knees and Toes, which has been in the Bookstart packs given to children under the Booktrust initiative.

The books are all published at a purpose-built headquarters, in Ashworth Road, which also has a warehouse capable of storing an estimated one million books. But Child’s Play is a truly international firm, with more warehouse and sales staff at bases in the USA and Australia.

There are around 420 titles in print, aimed at children birth to eight years old, and these are sold around the world in bookshops, fairs and online, including across Europe, the USA, Australia, China and Korea.

Neil Burden first started as a trainee at the firm fresh from college in 1978, and became the publisher and managing director following the death of founder Michael Twinn in 2000. Mr Twinn’s wife Adriana still owns the company.

Mr Burden, who still writes some of the books, said Child’s Play titles were different to those of the large multi-national book publishers, who are often run by accountants whose main concern in the bottom line.

“Everything is very child-focused, everything has some kind of educational element to it,” he said. “We set great store by being inclusive. There is a good ethnic mix in every single book we publish.

“Plus we’re working very hard to include incidental images of disability in our books because one in six children has some sort of disability and we think it’s important to represent that.”

Despite growing competition from e-books, Mr Burden said sales of physical children’s books are holding up.

“Generally in the market, e-books have obviously had a huge impact on numbers, and the proportion of e-books sold within the general market has grown hugely in the last couple of years,” he said.

“However, we’re in a very specific market where we’re producing books for nought to eight years, and actually the bulk of our books are nought to five, so there’s no substitute really for the printed hard copy in a child’s hands so they can cuddle up with mum and dad at bedtime and consider that thing. You can’t do that with a Kindle.”

The books are produced in an art room in the headquarters, which has 12 staff across all areas.

Editor Sue Baker said it takes from a minimum of five months, up to several years, to get a book in print, depending on how developed the idea is.

Sometimes, for example, someone will submit an almost complete book, while other times only the words or images will be submitted, and staff may decide to work it up into a complete article.

She said: “When we look at our publishing programme for the next year, we think to ourselves, ‘Right, what’s missing? Do we need more baby books, do we need more picture books?’ We get a feel of what we need to put in for the New Year.

“And we have hundreds of manuscripts sent to us. So we look through these to see if there’s anything interesting. We also create a lot of ideas here.”

Annie Kubler, the art director, who illustrated the title Rock and Ride, among many others, said computer software was used increasingly in illustration in the last 15 years.

She said: “On this one I did the outlines and I painted very carefully all the characters and then scanned that in, but it was in a very rough form and then I worked on the textures and I moved stuff around. A lot of people do that now.”

For more information visit www.childs-play.com