Wednesday, April 8, 2009

KidSpirit Magazine review

What if kids wrote and edited a non-fiction magazine for kids? Already happening. KidSpirit is a bit like Stone Soup for the soul. Each visually stunning issue focuses on a topic ranging from myth to materialism and its impact on our spiritual being. It’s not a religious magazine, but it is centered on moral knowledge and on an adolescent’s emerging sense of self.

KidSpirit is a new magazine that dares to tackle “The Big Questions.” The approach is novel: if you want to understand what matters to 11-15 year olds, ask someone that age. Let them question. Let them answer. Let them learn and share.

The current issue, Science and Spirit, asks “Is there a limit to what we should know?” Kid editor Rebecca Brudner dares to answer. The question sprung from a 2008 astrophysics experiment meant to simulate conditions in the universe before the Big Bang. Some people opposed this experiment, even worried that the Large Hadron Collider might end life on Earth.

Rebecca notes other examples where morality and scientific advancement have collided. Atomic bombs were dropped on Japanese civilians during WWII. Today there is plenty of controversy around genetic engineering. Rebecca does not dismiss the concerns, but she concludes:

“just because these issues create conflict does not mean that we cannot continue to progress. It is possible to have faith or spirituality and still encourage scientific development. Spirituality and science can both be used in an ethical way.”

Rebecca Brudner (center) is in ninth grade.

What I liked best about KidSpirit was that the big questions don’t have one answer. In one section called “Listen Up” kids polled other kids. On the topic of "Animal Testing" two respondents show the range of opinion:

“I strongly hate any abuse towards animals. But about animal testing, animals don’t have the same reactions to things as humans and they can’t say “NO!” So why not test everything on other humans? If they say no then people will know how animals feel, which is not an option for animals.” –Sami Fisch

“I believe humans are superior to animals. Therefore, even if tests caused pain to animals it would only be right to conduct those tests to relieve pain of humans. Laws of nature and just common sense say that superior beings can do whatever they like. It is not even known if animals feel pain like we do and any kind of statement that suggests they feel pain like humans is inaccurate. Bottom line: if it can help humans, animal testing is not a problem. –Ted Kim

Do these responses make you uncomfortable? Do they make you think? KidSpirit works.

The editors (some above) are actively looking for submissions from children aged 11-15 including writing, art and poetry. They work for cookies. My eleven-year-old daughter contributed the baby squirrel photo (below) to the Science and Spirit issue, and she has a poem about our sabbatical in England in The Change and Loss issue due out in June.

When I was about my daughter’s age, I submitted a poem to a kids’ horse magazine, and it won second prize. Jump ahead two decades, and I started writing a novel which led me to my literary agent. I wouldn’t have believed it possible without that early experience of seeing my work in print.

We found out about KidSpirit from my friend, Marika Josephson (above on right of me, photo by my son.) Yes, the Marika I almost drowned in Maine. She has worked in publishing and is currently doing a Ph.D. in Philosophy at the New School for Social Research while working as an editorial assistant for KidSpirit. She’s one of the few adults doing the busy work behind the magazine.

In addition to selecting and editing articles for the magazine, the kids on the editorial board (pictured above) select the magazine's theme and content. Editor-in-chief Elizabeth Dabney Hochman (and mother of one of the editors) founded KidSpirit four years ago. Here’s an interesting clip from Neighborhood Beat that shows how the magazine works:

KidSpirit on Brooklyn Independent Television’s Neighborhood Beat: Brooklyn Heights
(reproduced with permission)

Encourage your kids/grandkids/students to contribute and/or subscribe. The magazine has no advertisements and relies on subscriptions ($25 per year) and charitable donations. It’s a great cause, educational and fun.

I’ve been blogging quite a bit recently about young adult topics. This year my daughter decided she was too old for bedtime stories, but I still like to stay connected with her through favorite books. It’s been a welcome surprise discovering fabulous novels and magazines designed for kids her age. I wish I’d have more of that growing up, but I’m enjoying it now as an adult. We were all once children too.

Next week (April 15) I’ll be back to more adult topics. I’ll be reviewing Geraldine Brooks’s People of the Book during the week of Passover. Brooks won a Pullitzer for her last novel, March. People of the Book is currently #6 on the NYT bestseller paperback list. Read along with me, and we can discuss this fascinating novel that follows a 500-year-old haggadah through times of persecution against the Jews and their artifacts. The protagonist is a rare book restorer. It’s a book lover’s book.

Blog Watch: My April 1st post was no joke but a review and author interview of a young adult novel, The Wild Girls by Pat Murphy. A bunch of you tricked me. Prairie Rose’s Garden is growing most unusual plants. Troutbirder was welcoming spring in Minnesota. Just A Plane Ride Away in England said she was moving back to Texas as opposed to the Netherlands. Ha!

Happy Passover and Easter!

Images reproduced with permission from KidSpirit Magazine.


tina said...

I'll have to look for this magazine. I'm always looking for interesting things or Jimmy. So far he just subscribes to Rolling Stones and Maximum PC. Which is a start I guess!

Gemma Mortlock said...

Hi Sarah, Thanks again for a great post. How inspirational to see so many young adults contributing to such a great idea. It's veri inspirational and makes you realise just how grown up they really are. I look forward to your blogs weekly and this one was great. May i also ask a question? do you know of any magazines that accept short story submissions from unsolicited manuscrpits? as i have written a number of short stories and would love to see them published. I just though as you are in the industry you may know of a few. Hope you're having a great spring and wishing you a happy easter

Sarah Laurence said...

Tina, KidSpirit is only available to order on line (link in my post.) You could also ask your library to subscribe. Another thing I liked about KidSpirit is that it’s gender neutral – great for girls and boys. My son is usually more interested in facts over fiction. My husband, Henry, is teaching a course on political economy and recommended Matt Taibbi’s article on the bailout in the April 2nd Rolling Stone as a really good layman article.

Gemma, thank you! I wish I could advise you on adult literary magazines, but as strange as this will sound, I’ve never submitted to one. The first piece of fiction I wrote outside of school was my novel and that led me directly to my agent. My advice would be to go to the library or search on line for literary magazines/journals. They will have submission guidelines. The journals usually take unsolicited stories although some have submission fees. Good luck! Happy Easter to you too.

A Cuban In London said...

What an uplifting post. Kids have the most amazing opinions, and yet we don't seem to care one jot about them. And then, we blame them when they get up to mischief. I love the layout of the magazine. As a former editor of a similar magazine, I noticed that they have kept the same masthead and font size in the three issues you uploaded with your post. That's important, if I was a reader I would like that type of branding. Also, the colours are vibrant but serious.

To the question, 'Is There a Limit...?', my answer is yes. We are limited by time, location, access and other factors. We're even limited by political, socio-economic, ideological and religious aspects. Knowledge, as I understand it, is infinite, but the capacity to acquire it is very restricted and as an author yourself, you probably understand that much better than any of us, non-writers. One of the conundrums of writing fiction is that at some point you will want to make a reference to an actual event and will be torn between using your imagination and thus incurring the wrath of the purists or spend a tad bit longer doing some research on a particular passage so that it rings truer to your readers. It is your choice of course.

I would like to see more features on KidSpirit Magazine in the future. It sounds like a very good idea. Many thanks for the post and the images.

Greetings from London.

Sarah Laurence said...

ACIL, KidSpirit is an uplifting magazine with amazing visuals. How interesting that you edited a similar magazine. From the looks of your blog, I’m not surprised.

I’m hitting those issues of fact vs. imagination right now. In general I write what I guess might happen after reading up a bit and then I go talk to an expert. Before submitting a MS to my agent, I ask experts to fact check sections. This was especially important in SAD when dealing with legal issues concerning teaching Intelligent Design in public schools. I also had a friend check my birds and went out lobstering before I wrote about a lobsterman. Sometimes I bend things for drama, but I strive to make my novels ring true.

As always, your comments add a new dimension to the post. Thanks for sharing!

Dave King said...

Sounds fabulous. Wish it every success.

Keri Mikulski said...

Great stuff!! Sound amazing. :)

Mary Ellen said...

What a terrific magazine. I wish it had been around a bit earlier, especially for my oldest, who has always pondered the big questions.

My other son has been thinking and writing about the right and/or duty of teachers to cover either a scientific or a religious view of the origin of life. I have to admit, while I don't always agree with them, I adore that young people are thinking about life and its ethical issues.

I'm also excited that you're going to (finally) be reviewing a book I've actually read. I know your goal is to make my to-read list grow, but not this time!

Sarah Laurence said...

Dave and Keri, it is fabulous and amazing.

Mary Ellen, it’s good for kids to think about these things. I’ll be interested in hearing your take on People of the Book next week. It’s been in my stack since August!

Rosaria Williams said...

My grandchild is in that age group. I shall pursue. Thanks for the information.

Elizabeth said...

This sounds a most worthwhile and intriguing publication.
I think this is the age when moral questioning begins -I imagine it would attract a rather thoughtful audience. A good contrast to the silliness of endless video games.

D.A. Riser said...

I'll have to keep KidSpirit in mind as my son gets older. I liked the post!

A Cuban In London said...

Thanks for your comments on my blog, too, Sarah.

I can see from your response that you do go out and do your research. I think that's fundamental even if you're just writing a blog. The fact that writing can sometimes be very informal does not necessarily mean that you can twist the facts. And then you have some authors who want to give you even the origin of the main character's underwear, tracing them back to the sweatshop in India where they were made and explaining the conditions in which the workers conducted their labour. No, sorry, not for me, just stick to fiction and a little bit of reality thrown in for good measure.

At the moment I am back to helping edit another magazine. In my new job I inherited a publication that used to go out every month and after an initial hiatus (settling in, getting toknow people and the students, getting a volunteer to design the publication) we're ready to go. The kids might be only 9 or 10 but they look hungry for that kind of challenge and I think KidSpirit poses that type of hurdle that teenagers love to overcome. I will pop by their website. Many thanks.

Greetings from London.

Sarah Laurence said...

Lakeviewer, great to hear!

Elizabeth, it is nice to see kids interested in moral issues as well as games.

DA, it’s fun when your kids share a love of writing.

ACIL, there’s always the danger of trying to include too much of your research. The test is: does this advance the narrative or explain more about character? Sometimes the author needs to know something but does not have to share it all with the reader. The tip of the iceberg says it all. Your job sounds really interesting. It’s good to see some cross-pollination.

Charlotte Agell said...

My kids at school,especially the7th and 8th graders, really like this magazine and are actively submitting. Thanks for blogging about it, Sarah!

Sarah Laurence said...

Charlotte, thanks for encouraging them to submit! I would have loved a writing teacher like you back then.

troutbirder said...

Very good. Reading and writing is what it's all about. A heretical English teacher and I combined our classes into a 2 hour block, and team taught "American Studies." Adolescent historical novels with a history theme formed the core.

Stacy Nyikos said...

Sarah, KidSpirit sounds really neat. I get asked by kids at school visits often about where they can submit material they are writing. Now I have a great place to direct them. So cool.

And I loved People of the Book. Awesome read. I can't wait to read your comments on it.

Donna said...

What a great magazine. I wish it had been around when I was in that age group. Those kids are so smart! We need more things like that for our kids today. Congratulations to your daughter for her submissions being published!
I'm looking forward to reading your review of "People of the Book." I read it in February and I loved it! It is indeed a book-lover and history-lover's book.

Sarah Laurence said...

Troutbirder, what a great idea!

Stacy, definitely send kids their way. Good to have such a positive preview for People of the Book.

Donna, I think KidSpirit will do well since the need has existed for so long. Wow, that’s 3 commenters who’ve read People of the Book and loved it. This will be an interesting discussion.

Rose said...

Wow, this is just amazing, Sarah! I am so impressed by the depth of thought of these young people. Of course, I know that kids this age think about such deep issues, but to write about these ideas and do it so well is quite an accomplishment. Thanks for spreading the word about this magazine and encouraging others to read it; I hope they are very successful in this endeavor. I might look for this for my 13-year-old granddaughter. She gets into some pretty "heavy" discussions with me, and I think she would really enjoy this.

Thanks for the link love, too; I hope I can find a good book for next Review Day:)

David Cranmer said...

What a great idea for kids to becoming involved in writing and publishing.

Sarah Laurence said...

Rose, from what you’ve told me about your granddaughter, I think she would enjoy this magazine.

David, it is a novel idea to get kids involved in the whole process.

Pamela Terry and Edward said...

I just love the photos of those kids. What bright, intelligent faces.

Perhaps your daughter will come around full circle on the bedtime story thing. I love it when my husband reads me ghost stories!

I look forward to your review of People of the Book. I enjoyed March very much.

Wishing you a lovely holiday weekend!

Bee said...

Sarah - this magazine looks wonderful! Thanks for alerting us to it. (Sorry I've been such a stranger lately; I will be back in England on April 20.)

walk2write said...

Children don't have to be encouraged to think about spiritual things, but they do need a safe place to discuss them. A place where adults won't be constantly watching over their shoulders and whispering in their ears. KidSpirit is a wonderful concept for kids to connect regarding things that really matter. Thanks for bringing it to our attention, Sarah.

Sarah Laurence said...

Pamela, back when we were first dating, my husband used to read me P.G. Wodehouse stories, which were all the better for the right accents.

Bee, aren’t you good to check in while traveling. Enjoy your vacation and I look forward to your next update.

W2W, I agree.

Barrie said...

What a great idea for a kids' magazine. Wonderful post!

Curmudgeon said...

I can't wait to pass this on to some friends who have kids in this age range. This magazine reminded me of Children's Express, now Children's Pressline.

Sarah Laurence said...

Barrie, thanks!

Curmudgeon, thanks for passing it on and recommending another magazine too.

TBM said...

I've really enjoyed your YA reviews, Sarah, and this magazine sounds wonderful. Congratulations to your daughter on her publishing success! As for reading aloud... perhaps she'd like to read to you now? Roxi sometimes will for me. It's very dramatic ;-)

PS Sorry about that April Fool's joke!

Sarah Laurence said...

JAPRA, it’s a sign of how crazy and fun your life is that I fell for your April Fool’s trick. It is fun sharing YA with a daughter.