One of the great things about running your own company and having a very small team is that you can make things happen without having to get them approved by a huge committee or several tiers of management. You can make a decision and see the result within weeks, instead of years.
So when enough of our readers comment, “Hey, I love your magazine, but I’d love to see these types of stories or characters in it,” we can respond quickly. Or when we see something in the publishing world that makes us uneasy, we can carry out our own little rebellion in Storytime.
Our latest cover for Storytime Issue 34 is a result of both of the above. When author Paul Bristow approached us with his story Superhero Supermarket, we immediately loved it and saw it as an opportunity to answer two ongoing issues:
1. Comments from BAME (black, asian and minority ethnic) children and parents who feel under-represented in children’s literature. Particularly friends with children who just can’t understand why they can’t see ‘themselves’ in the stories they read. Diversity is something we’ve been mindful of from the beginning, but always seek to improve.
2. The troubling fact touched upon recently by new Children’s Laureate Lauren Child that many boys (we stress, not all) simply won’t read stories about girls or with girls on the cover.
Sadly, we have first-hand experience of the second issue. We make a great effort to put a good mix of stories in our magazine to appeal to both genders, even though we truthfully believe that stories are for everyone. Yet, in the past, some schools who have decided not to subscribe to Storytime have given as their reason: “Boys won’t read it if there’s a girl on the cover.”
They won’t or they can’t, because they feel they can’t?
Over the years, we have heard the same thing in many publishing meetings with magazine and book companies: girls will read stories featuring boys or with boys on the cover, but the reverse is almost unthinkable. It’s a sad state of affairs and we’d like to see it change.
Let’s stop censoring stories
Stories are the building blocks of reading and learning, so the types of stories we choose to read or not to read (or even subconsciously censor) have a huge impact on our children, as well as the beliefs they develop as they grow up and their capacity to build empathy with each other.
Not reading ‘girl stories’ to boys is no different from telling them they can’t wear pink or play with dolls. The same is true of preventing girls from reading ‘boy stories’. It’s an outdated way of thinking. Let Toys Be Toys have been running a brilliant campaign to put an end to this gendered thinking in books, but it’s time that magazines take responsibility too.In defiance, Storytime Issue 34 features a female superhero on the cover. Not only that, she’s Asian. We did it because we aren’t bogged down in the bureaucracy that would have warned us that this would damage our sales, because we believe our readers are smart and sensitive enough not to bin a magazine of beautifully illustrated stories just because there’s a girl on the cover, and because we can. Sometimes, that’s all the justification you need.
Storytime was born of a rebellion against poor content in children’s magazines and cheap plastic toys – so I guess we have rebellion in our blood. We love our Asian girl superhero. We hope our readers do too – and we’re deeply grateful for everyone’s ongoing support.
Ultimately, we believe that stories are the real superheroes – because stories are for everyone. It’s only narrow mindedness that stops it being that way.
Let stories be stories?