Straight from the heart

31st October 1997 at 00:00
Kathryn Kohl discovers an American literary magazine, made by and for children, with contributors as young as three

When is a magazine for children really a children's magazine? When its contents are entirely written and illustrated by children, for children.

Since 1973, Stone Soup has published quality stories, poems, book reviews and illustrations by contributors up to the age of 13. Most come from North America, but the adult editors, Gerry Mandel and William Rubel, work hard to feature writers and artists from other countries. Recent editions have included work by children from France, Germany, Greece, Sri Lanka, Japan, Kenya, Russia and Lithuania. Understandably, more international artwork than writing is submitted, as stories and poems are published inEnglish. "Art is universal, " says Gerry, "but we will look for translators of good writing."

Stone Soup grew out of a community arts programme which Gerry and William helped run when they were students at the University of California at Santa Cruz. "The children's work was so good that we wanted to publish it," explains Gerry. "In the end we had to go national to cover the costs." The magazine's name was chosen "for its tenuous folk-tale connection". Now, 24 years on, besides publishing Stone Soup, the pair also collect and exhibit children's art and run art classes at their Santa Cruz centre.

Stone Soup is, as far as Gerry and William are aware, unique in being entirely by, as well as for, children. The high literary quality of the writing derives from personal experience conveying truth. "Fine artists are engaged in a process of inventing new worlds based on what they know and live," says William. "Too often children's art is derived from two-dimensional or commercial sources - horses in horse books, racing cars, cartoons, Darth Vader - and so much of children's writing is not based on experience. But in the western literary tradition, writing is about life. The books ring true. " Which is why Stone Soup's editors tell their young writers to "write about your own life, things you feel most strongly about". Their goal remains "to stir the imaginations of our readers and inspire young writers and artists to create".

Gerry reviews material, selecting less than one-half of 1 per cent of submitted work - one piece out of the nearly 300 submissions received weekly. "Those that make the first cutare superb," she says. "We don't say, 'That's good for aneight-year-old'. Everything we publish would be good for a 50-year-old. If it's good, it's good, regardless of age."

Each issue of Stone Soupcontains an activities section which includes brief discussion of two pieces of writing and one illustration, along with prompts. So, for example, children might be asked to follow the example set by one l0-year-old author from Missouri and "write a story with a dream at its centre"; or, to observe the perspective painted by a 13-year-old Parisian and "make a picture of your city's river, or its central park or square".

Most Stone Soup contributors are aged between l0 and 13, but many are younger. Once the editors received a poem dictated by a three-year-old, and a seven-year-old submitted a 100-page novel about pirates that was so remarkable it was published as a complete issue. Great pains are taken to respect children's work "even when the language is raw", and rejected work receives "a gentle letter".

Little poetry is accepted. The editors are "not opposed to rhyming if it's not forced", but look for lyrical language where "a lot is said in a few words, evocative both visually and emotionally. Like the stories, the poems are very personal."

Teachers and children interested in subscribing or submitting work to Stone Soup can reach the editors at: Stone Soup, PO Box 83, Santa Cruz, CA 95063 USA; or http:www.stonesoup.com. One-year subscriptions (six issues) to the UK cost $44, and may be paid in US dollars or the equivalent in pounds. Submissions must include a self-addressed A4 envelope, if work is to be returned

* A poem published in Stone Soup by 11-year-old Jessica Lam, from Wexford, Pennsylvania, USA

Receptacle

I have come to expect

that February comes slowly

like a silver snail.

And as Valentine's Day approaches,

you open my heart like an oven door,

baking my love into a sugar cake.

I have come to expect

when the snow has passed,

when my deep violet iris blossoms

with a yellow heart

and its deep green receptacle

reflects the indigo sky,

then my heart arches high

like a rainbow.

I have come to expect this.

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