Winnipeg students guest edit national children’s book magazine

By | June 18, 2020

Dozens of Grade 8 students at Winnipeg’s Linden Meadows School are now published writers after taking over a national magazine as guest editors.

The Canadian Children’s Book News — a quarterly magazine that features book reviews, author interviews and news about books for young readers — invited the middle-grade students to take over as editors and contributors for the national magazine’s summer 2020 issue.

After months of work, students like Connor Yu, 14, received the hard copy of their magazine this week.

“It was really cool,” said Yu. “I didn’t think anything like this would ever happen, especially in Grade 8.”

Kathryn Babiuk, 13, agreed.

“I could have never imagined this happening,” she said. 

Students at the southwest Winnipeg school began the process last September, after interviewing the magazine’s editor on the criteria used to select literary prize winners as part of a class project, said teacher Colleen Nelson.

Grade 8 students Connor Yu, Manaar Fatima and Kathryn Babiuk hold a copy of the national children’s book magazine their class had the opportunity to guest edit. (Trevor Brine/CBC)

Following the Skype call with her class, Nelson said the editor asked if her students would guest edit the summer 2020 issue. 

Nelson, who is also an author, said the experience was a dream come true, as the issue is almost entirely written by her students.

“I was beaming when I got it,” said Nelson. “To actually have a published copy of the work that the kids did, it’s huge. There’s a lot of scaffolding to get to this point.”

For months, her two Grade 8 classes pored over back issues of the magazine to deconstruct the elements they would need to produce and began brainstorming ideas for features. 

Students reviewed books, wrote features

The magazine sent the school roughly 150 books and students got to work practising writing book reviews and feature articles and conducting interviews.

In the end, the students compiled 40 reviews, a handful of book recommendations by genre and a series of opinion pieces.

Some of the articles include “How Books Can Save the Environment,” “What Do Middle Grade Readers Like to Read?” and “Getting Into the Mind of a Reluctant Reader” — where one student humorously details how he used to find books boring and is likely a librarian’s worst night nightmare.

Manaar Fatima, 13, chose to write about why children’s picture books need more diversity.

“I feel like everyone should feel represented, because that’s where your reading journey starts,” she said.

Fatima, who immigrated to Winnipeg from Pakistan as a young child, detailed the reality of not seeing herself represented in the children’s books she read as a kid.

“I would have loved to see somebody like me in picture books, because it would have given me a positive role model that I could relate to,” she wrote in her piece, adding all she saw were illustrations of white boys and girls.

“Seeing someone relatable is important to children. It makes them see that they aren’t the only ones like themselves,” she wrote. “It can show them diversity at a young age so they can view it as a positive thing.”

On Wednesday, she said seeing her words in print was special.

“It’s shocking,” she said. “Now that I see it, I’m like, ‘woah.'”

Students also interviewed notable Canadian authors, including Wesley King, Kit Pearson and Heather Smith about their writing process, and their favourite books and authors.

Yu said the best part was getting to conduct interviews — something he had never done before. 

He hopes the magazine, and his class’s reviews, will encourage kids to pick out a new book and read this summer.

Nelson said she could not be more proud.

“To actually see their voices out in the public and then to have it get such great feedback from other teachers, teacher-librarians, is really encouraging.”

The summer 2020 issue of Canadian Children’s Book News is out now.

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