Smart, sassy and refreshing, there's a lot to love about Kookie magazine. We chat to its two founders and tell you why your tween (and you) will LOVE it.
I love magazines. Nothing quite beats holding a printed publication in your hands and savouring it bit by bit, or all in one go. It’s why I went into publishing myself, and why I’m obsessed with typography, illustration, paper stock and design (and words, obvs!). I’ve always been the same. These days I’m all about niche titles, but when I was a pre-teen, I’d spend all my pocket money on mags and would read every single word. From nature mags, short story compilations and puzzle books to more typical newsstand ‘fluff’, I’d read it all. But you know what? I wish I’d have had something like Kookie magazine when I was younger.
Kookie magazine? What’s that?
If you haven’t already heard about one of our fave magazines for kids to subscribe to, Kookie (as in, *adopts Northern England accent* “Bloomin ‘eck, our lass is a smart cookie, that one”) is an award-winning magazine for youngsters aged seven to 12+. And it’s got more girl power than a rebooted Spice Girls tour. You won’t find any fluff about how to ‘win the boy’, which jeans are more slimming or which lipstick suits your skin tone. Instead, it’s packed full of fiction, interviews with kickass peeps, craft, puzzles, and articles on everything from art and activism to science and sports.
What’s more, a huge chunk of its content is reader-generated. Flicking through its pages, it’s so refreshing to see this isn’t your usual magazine. The readers are on the cover, in all their fresh-faced gorgeousness. They’re sending in artwork. They’re penning letters. And they’re having their say on topical issues and interviewing experts, too.
In short, Kookie’s aim is to get young female tweens thinking about the big issues – as well as just enjoying being kids, basically. And it’s 100% ad-free, too. Whoop! There are four issues per year for middle-graders to look forward to, and there is a UK and an Australian edition. (It’s the same mag, but with local features to keep it extra relevant for its readers.) The good news for parents and kids in Singapore is that delivery is available worldwide – whoop! Keen to know more? I had a virtual cuppa with its two founders and editors, Nicky Shortridge (Aussie edition) and Vivien Jones (UK edition).
Cool mums: We meet the Kookie editors
Hello, ladies! Tell me more about why you started Kookie.
Vivien: As the parent of two girls, I was really disappointed by the quality of magazines available to them when they were younger. Despite my best efforts, I couldn’t find any alternative to the pretty/pink kind that peddled fashion and beauty and shopping to girls as young as seven. In a way, it was shocking to find that girls were still being shoehorned into very traditional roles. And I read how girls’ confidence drops off a cliff-edge when they reach puberty.
I realised there was a real need for a magazine to celebrate all the wonderful ways to be a girl, a magazine that would go some way to counter the mainstream narrative that girls are only interested in fashion and make-up and shopping. I kicked the idea around for a while, did lots of research, even came up with the name, but it was a conversation with Nicky where we discussed this idea for a ‘feminist magazine for tweens’ that really started the actual process of making it a reality. When she said ‘yeah!’, we were off and running.
Nicky: When Viv described it as a ‘kind of feminist magazine for tweens’, it was a true lightbulb moment. I saw its glorious scope and potential, and was really excited. We talked and talked about it, and quickly decided to dive in and take it on. I’m a parent too (I have a son), and it’s very relevant to this project. When I became a parent I realised just how much hadn’t changed for girls and boys since we were kids. In fact, the inhibiting pressures girls face seem even more intense today, especially around appearance. Kookie is the kind of magazine we wish we’d had growing up, and couldn’t believe still wasn’t widely available today.
Let’s talk The Big One: that launch issue, back in December 2017. I imagine it was a pretty hectic time!
N: We spent around six months preparing for the launch. That involved finding contributors and developing the content for issue 1, while building our Kickstarter campaign. As Kookie was going to be an ad-free magazine, crowdfunding allowed us to check we had an audience and enabled us to start with a solid subscriber base.
V: Totally. Crowdfunding was the perfect route for us, really — it allowed us to gauge the market’s interest before we committed to publishing. It was a challenge, though. Putting together a crowdfunding pitch is a LOT of work, from creating a video to planning the “rewards”, marketing the project and building a community buzz in social media (while at the same time putting together the magazine!). We chose to go with Kickstarter since it has a history of working with creatives, but it’s an all-or-nothing proposition. In order to publish two magazines (in the UK and Australian markets) and operate for a year, we needed a good chunk of money. It was daunting. Fortunately, we had some great publicity at a critical time, which gave us a much-needed boost.
You guys work on separate editions for the UK and Australia. What’s it like working together… and remotely? Where did you even meet?!
N: I’ve known Viv forever (we met at school, 40 years ago). We’ve been living on different sides of the world for a long time. Kookie has well and truly updated our friendship! I didn’t realise until we started working together quite how much we complement each other. Basically she’s the hare, I’m the tortoise, and somehow we magically reach the finish line together every issue. Kookie is produced via email, Dropbox, Whatsapp… and a bit of telepathy.
V: Yep, Nicky and I met in 1981 when I moved to Hong Kong and she was assigned to look after me as the ‘new kid’ in school. We’ve been friends ever since, although we’ve lived in different cities and on different continents since the early 1990s. What do I like most about having her as a work partner? Collaborating on something we’re both so proud of. Nicky is organised and methodical in a way that I am not. She really raises my game!
And what about the Kookie reader? Who did you have in mind when creating the mag?
N: Kookie exists to meet the needs of an under-served audience: girls aged 7 to 12+ who want (and deserve) a magazine that provides a rounded and optimistic sense of who they are and what they could become. Our magazine avoids narrow stereotypes, reflecting and respecting girls with all kinds of interests, backgrounds and strengths. Kookie is created with girls, for girls, but our content isn’t gendered and anyone can enjoy it. Boys can (and do) too. Parents also tell us they like reading it.
V: Our magazine’s mission is to celebrate all that it means to be a girl, whether she’s interested in science or sport, art or astronomy, history or hip hop. As one of our readers wrote, Kookie is about what you COULD be, not what you SHOULD be. That’s the best description we’ve heard yet!
Proudest moments so far?
V: All of them and all of it! Joking aside, we’re privileged to work on the magazine with some exceptionally talented women.
N: I’m the same: I’m proud of it all and proud of everyone we’ve collaborated with. I still get a buzz every issue, trying to create our ideal magazine with the perfect mix of elements. It’s a continuous work in progress. If I had to single out one thing, the interviews are quite a feat to pull together and perhaps the most satisfying content on the page. It’s exciting to give kids the chance to meet and talk with some remarkable women, who are always so generous with their time and insights. Our pre-teen reporters have interviewed inventors Marita Cheng and Macinley Butson, round-the-world sailor Jessica Watson, writer Kirli Saunders, swimmer Cate Campbell and more.
V: We have also had the opportunity to interview plenty of amazing women. For me, meeting ballerina Darcey Bussell was very special. Also, space scientist Dr Maggie Aderin-Pocock was someone I’d wanted to interview in the magazine for a long time, so it was fantastic when that happened.
I love how the readers are a big part of the process – and are the cover stars, too! How does the process work?
N: Thanks! We love creating our covers. We wanted them to look like a ‘proper’ magazine, but using real faces of actual readers (never models and never with any make-up). Aside from being involved in the interviews, readers also send us their thoughts on debate topics, their artwork and creative writing, their embarrassing moments, personal problems and photos of much-loved pets. Kookie aims to give girls a platform to be heard, and their voices and presence on almost every page give Kookie its character.
What does the future look like for Kookie? (And how has the pandemic affected you guys?)
V: We’re so proud of Kookie that I’d just like to see as many girls as possible enjoying it! Ideally it would be more frequent and have an even wider distribution. But for now, our ad-free, subscription-based model is working. Funnily enough, the pandemic didn’t have too much impact on us. I think more than ever, parents are looking for ways to keep kids engaged without resorting to technology. A quality print magazine like Kookie offers hours of unplugged entertainment!
N: Agreed. With the pandemic, we find ourselves in the fortunate position of having a product that’s relevant and valued while the world turns upside down. We also hope to create a magazine for boys, which will be about more than just blowing up aliens. The future for Kookie? Welcoming more (and more) readers to the Kookie crew.