How to cook up a new magazine for 8-12 year olds

posted in: 2. Illustrators and Authors | 9

stewcoverI’m a massive believer in having all sorts of reading material around at home for M and J (and us grownups!) to enjoy. Alongside books, catalogues, and newspapers, magazines play an important part in our varied reading diet: We subscribe to the enormously fun (and secretly often educational) Phoenix Comic, the very well produced and stimulating Adventure Box and Discovery Box, and also to the Young Archaeologists Magazine. And we’ve just subscribed to a brand new offering targeted at 8-12 year olds, STEW Magazine.

STEW Magazine describes itself thus: a “bi-monthly magazine for inquisitive young minds launching in January 2014. Aimed at children aged 8 to 12, it is educational but not stuffy, fun without being trivial, and inspiring rather than worthy.

What I’d add, having enjoyed it’s first public issue immensely, is that:-

  • it is ad free – HURRAH!
  • it is very beautifully produced on thick paper (much more robust than is used for most children’s magazines found in the newsagent, and therefore able to withstand more re-reading – a particular asset for library and school subscriptions)
  • it contains the most wonderful illustrations
  • it has opportunities for children to submit their own work, both writing and illustration
  • it covers a great range of subjects: there are short stories, a comic strip, a news section, non fiction articles, activities and even an (age appropriate) agony aunt column written by a professional counsellor
  • it contains a book review section (written both by STEW staffers and children) with author interviews and competitions
  • it is not gendered either in terms of its aesthetic or content

  • M devoured it, and has returned to it on several occasions since her first reading. When I asked her what she thought of the magazine she said, “It’s absolutely amazingtastic fabbo,” [sic] “I really like the mix of facts and stories and drawing. I really like the style of the pictures.”

    Illustration: Hayley Chan. Click for larger image.
    Interior spread from the current issue of STEW Magazine. Illustration: Hayley Chan. Click for larger image.

    In this age of austerity I was very interested to find out more about what has to be the fairly brave and risky enterprise of starting a new children’s magazine, and so I asked the editor, Ali Fraser, for some background on STEW’s birth.

    About 18 months ago, my eldest daughter, Ellie, was given a subscription to a magazine that was meant to be educational and entertaining, but the content was pretty dull and the design quite dated. She barely looked at it.

    I knew that a title for older children was a good idea – like most children of her age, Ellie soaks up information and loves stories – and I also knew that getting her own magazine through the post really appealed.

    I looked around for something else, but when none of the alternatives got much of a reaction from her, I decided to publish my own.

    From the outset, I knew I wanted it to be a mixture of informative features covering history, the arts, science and current affairs: there are so many fascinating stories to be told, which schools just don’t have the time to cover, and which I knew Ellie would lap up.

    I didn’t want these features to read like a school textbook, though, or for Stew to feel like homework. Instead, they would be anecdotal and full of human interest that children could relate to.

    And very early on I decided that the magazine should look as stylish and artistic as possible – so no clip art or garish layouts and very few photographs. Instead, I wanted to draw children into what are potentially quite demanding topics with a very strong visual design.

    So, with the framework of a magazine – and Ellie and her friends as a sounding-board to make sure the content was pitched correctly – I began to think about turning this concept into an actual product.

    Illustration: Jesse Hodgson
    Interior spread from Issue 0 of STEW Magazine. Illustration: Jesse Hodgson. Click for larger image.

    Of course I had to ask about the name of the magazine too…

    It didn’t have a name at this point. I knew that whatever I chose had to be memorable and easy to spell and say (its web domain had to be available, too, which cut out a lot of possibilities). Plucking a title out of the air was much harder than I thought. Almost in desperation I said, oh, let’s call it Stew until I can think of something else. Only later did I decide I liked that name, and also realised it was quite apt given the mixture of ingredients that would go into each issue.

    One aspect which particularly impressed me in the first public issue was the quality of illustrations and so I wanted to find out where they came from:

    I found the illustrators mainly by going onto art school websites, and was staggered by the incredible talent there. Many of the students and graduates seemed to want to work on children’s publications, so we have both benefited – they have given me some absolutely amazing illustrations, and in return I hope the magazine gives them a bit of exposure that they really deserve.

    As word of the magazine gets around, illustrators have been contacting me, and I hope more do, too, as I would love to publish the work of as many as possible.

    Illustration: Sam Kalda. Click for larger image.
    Interior spread from the current issue of STEW Magazine. Illustration: Sam Kalda. Click for larger image.

    And how does Ali see STEW with respect to other children’s magazines that are available? What does consider special / unique about the magazine?

    What makes it special and unique? It isn’t dumbed down – some of the content is intellectually challenging and raises ethical issues, but I hope it’s written in a clear way that makes it understandable.

    But there’s also a lot writing and drawing opportunities to stimulate the other, creative side of the brain. With Stew, children can learn and have fun, too; the magazine is not only interesting but, thanks to a great bunch of illustrators, it also looks outstanding.

    Here’s a sample issue for you to take a look at and draw your own conclusions (overseas subscriptions are available). M and I would definitely agree it’s a stimulating, appealing and very well put together magazine. We’re looking forward to the next issue already!

    In case you’re looking for more magazines (especially those available in the UK) for children, you might be interested in my reviews of The Loop, Okido, Ploc, Anorak, National Geographic for Kids and Alphabet Glue.

    Disclosure: I was sent a review copy of Issue 1 of STEW magazine.

    9 Responses

    1. Sallie Durham

      Oh, I know this is just what my nine-year-old daughter is looking for! She’s bored with the supermarket selection – STEW looks interesting and visually appealing. Subscribing. 🙂

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