- “Where do babies come from?”
- “Do animals get married?”
- “Why aren’t dinosaurs alive anymore?”
A quick Google search should reveal some of the darndest questions a kid could ask their parents — most of them can be brushed off with a white lie. But eventually, hard truths slip their way through the cracks and there are no escaping hard-hitting conundrums like, “Pa, can we visit ah ma in heaven tomorrow? I miss her so much.”
It isn’t so much about shielding them from the truth, but rather, the children’s limited understanding of the real world poses a hurdle. As a result, parents skirt around difficult topics such as loss and death to avoid tantrums and spare their feelings.
However, there are proponents that think that children should be exposed to crucial life issues at a young age to prepare them for what’s coming in real life, while also aiding in personality development and mental growth through leisure reading.
Bayard Presse, one of the largest publishers of educational children’s magazines, is one such advocate which aims to help young kids discover the world through specially curated stories, and have been doing so for the past 150 years. How? By imbuing real topics that help children comprehend complex human emotions such as grief, loss, suspense, sadness, anger and jealousy, in their wide range of magazines.
The publication’s Box Collection, for instance, includes monthly issues of StoryBox (ages 3-8), AdventureBox (ages 6-10), AdventureBox Max! (ages 9-14) and DiscoveryBox (ages 7-14). Children can expect to be greeted with engaging and light-hearted materials that not only come in bite-sized portions but also invites them to reflect on their values and broaden their world views.
We spoke to Thuy-Ngan Pham, Deputy General Manager at Bayard Presse Asia to learn more.
TVM: Could you tell us a bit more about the creative process behind these magazines?
Pham: Everything in Bayard magazine starts with the children and the family in mind. It is not rare that a story comes directly from a reader’s question or a parent’s concern. We create stories that touch children and make them want to reflect on it because they can see themselves in our stories through the main characters. We have a team of writers and illustrators who are passionate about nurturing young minds and hearts.
We also work closely with children and specialists. Before the story is published, the writers go into schools to meet their readers and test their ideas. Is this sentence making sense? Do the children laugh? Are they mesmerized? Our magazines grow alongside the children, and we help them grow because of our close relationship with them. We also consult specialists and speech therapists to make sure the right words are used, and that the phrasings are correctly understood, while psychologists’ advice ensures that the stories are relevant and age-adapted.
Topics we choose are also an opportunity for open discussions and to ask questions that are not sometimes easy to answer. The story and the characters are all indirect media that allow and facilitate dialogue and reflection. Some of our stories are fun and happy, while some talk about deeper subjects that show how the hero deals with complicated situations. We make sure that the stories are adapted to the age of our audience, but they are as varied as life itself.
One last thing — In our stories, you won’t find a sweet little princess waiting for her fairytale prince. Instead, the princess has her own personality. She can be naughty and, if needed, will go and save the prince from the dragon herself. We foster creativity and imagination, but our heroes, like our children, are unpredictable and full of surprises!
TVM: Why do you think helping kids navigate complex human emotions through the power of storytelling is important and what are the benefits of starting with this at an early age?
Pham: Having stories read to the child allows them to understand the complexities of human emotion. The power of storytelling enables the parents to use this opportunity to also discuss different issues other than the ones in the stories.
The parents can ask the kids questions about the character – what they are feeling and how they can resolve the problem? The child can develop empathy towards the characters.
It is a good starting point when you don’t know how to broach a topic without making it personal.
Throughout the storytelling process, the child should be encouraged to ask questions. This in turn allows the child to regulate their emotions as they can openly discuss the issues or relate it to themselves.
TVM: How are Bayard magazines able to complement academic-centric reading materials to help enhance literacy?
Pham: I love this question. One common belief is that literacy can only be achieved through academic reading materials. Literacy, which combines reading and writing, has to start with a desire to speak and tell, which is why we believe in reading for pleasure with your child, especially at a young age, with materials that foster dialogues. Before words and stories were written, they were told, and this is the opportunity we give.
A young child who can retell a story with his or her own words and explain what was moving in the story is one step closer to literacy. It is a passion that fosters literacy in the long term. And passion also comes from enjoyment. This is why our magazines are rich with stories that hook children into reading, help them grow confidence through it, but also with comics and games to keep it fun! Reading should be fun if we want children to become avid adult readers.
Besides, many of our stories focus on empathy and diversity. At heart, we wish to foster soft skills and creativity, help kids understand different points of view and be more open-minded and versatile. Academic reading material doesn’t necessarily have these in mind.
TVM: In a highly digital world, how will physical magazines fare against e-books when it comes to appealing to children?
Pham: Ebooks can be a compliment, but nothing can replace the tactile experience of a magazine. The paper we use and the size of our magazines are adapted to the children’s age, turning them into an everyday friends that they can easily travel with everywhere and kept handy. It’s a physical object that they can mark up, colour in, dog ear, cut out, or add things onto, at their own pace.
There is also the mystery of discovering what’s on the next page, along with the novelty of turning the page itself, that an ebook click cannot replicate. And of course, the feeling of ownership of a paper magazine is also very powerful. Many of our readers are so proud to show off their physical libraries, and some would never miss an issue to make sure to have a complete collection.
TVM: Has COVID-19 affected the reading patterns or habits of children during the pandemic?
We found that the COVID-19 restrictions have given children more opportunities and free time to read. Additionally, it has had the unintentional effect of also enabling parents to have more time to spend with their children. The unexpected luxury has reminded many parents how time is precious and how important it is to make the most of little moments with our loved ones — especially since they are growing so fast!
Digital media has also seen significant growth by offering more variety and purchasing convenience, hence no visits to the store are required. Added features like audiobooks have also made story time more interactive and exciting. However, it is worth noting that some parents, especially those of infants and toddlers, are reluctant to be turning their child onto screen time so early. There will always be something special about paper that digital screens will never quite capture.
TVM: With so many online avenues and digital infotainment channels available, how can parents encourage kids to read more?
Pham: Not every child is an avid reader. Having 2 children myself, who are reluctant readers, I know reading can be nurtured. Here are some of my tips :
- Don’t put pressure. Each child is different. It is sometimes hard not to compare with other kids, but don’t forget that becoming a lifelong reader is a marathon, not a race.
- Choose level-appropriate material. Reading should be enjoyable. Challenge your child when they’re ready, but if they are reluctant, don’t give them books that are above their level. It is a sure way to put them off.
- Propose a variety of books: fiction, non-fiction, short or long ones. Observe your child and see where his or her interests are and feed them. Reading is reading. It doesn’t matter what they are reading as long as they are reading. Don’t be afraid to introduce comics to engage them from a young age before they move on to more complicated books.
- Be a role model. Seeing their parents reading and enjoying books will help children integrate this activity naturally into their daily lives
- Read together and make it fun! Even if they can read by themselves, reading together is a special bonding moment between parents and children. Read aloud, alternate and use different voices. In our family, we sometimes act it out. Other times, we put out a nice blanket, light some candles, serve some special treats and make it a reading party. You don’t need to try too hard, but just make it special and fun!
About Bayard Presse
Founded in 1873, Bayard Presse is an international media company and one of the largest French publishers of educational children’s magazines with over 150 years of history. Bayard’s magazines aim to help parents in sharing human values with their children and to offer them opportunities to express their creativity and discover the world. Bayard publishes 150 magazines for over 36 million readers worldwide, including its pool of 5 million subscribers spread all throughout Europe, as well as in North and South America, Africa and Asia to reach a widespread and multicultural community of young readers. For more information on Bayard Presse, visit https://bayardmagazines.sg/.