Feed their minds with Chicken: learn all about this free newspaper for children

Published on: 17 May 2018 Author: Ken Wilson-Max

Ken Wilson-Max is an award-winning children's author and illustrator who's taken on a big new project: a free newspaper for children, printed once a term. Here's what he hopes young readers will get out of it...

Ever tried to explain "empathy"? Tricky. It seems simple enough, then you try to give an example and realise that you yourself don’t have the capacity to empathise completely; there are only so many other shoes to try to fit into. What must it be like to be black? Or white? Or a woman? Or a man? Or a disabled Muslim woman who is allergic to cats?

I believe empathy is really all about stopping long enough to listen to some one different and then finding the things that you both have in common so you can continue the conversation.

'People are more similar than different'

When my first few books started to receive good reviews, I would often hear that my point of view of everyday life was ‘so fresh and different!’ It confused the hell out of me. I thought I was writing and illustrating about everyday things, nothing else.

But there were a couple of lessons: one, that I had a fresh and different perspective, and two that it was probably my main advantage. I've fiercely and passionately tried to maintain this advantage.

But I have realised that people are more similar than different, and try to live and work with this in mind.

In 2012, while designing a prototype for a new newspaper aimed at communities in the UK, I realised that children too might respond to this design and editorial approach.

Current affairs as a picture book

Newspaper design is a very interesting and exciting discipline. Newspapers translate current affairs for their target audience just as much as an audience is drawn towards the look and the sound of a particular point of view.

My thinking was simple – what if the audience was between five to 11 years old? Would they like to understand current affairs in a way is particular to them? If it looked like a picture book, why not?

By 2014, the ideas were shaped enough to present the concept to the world. I had tried to explain it but found that people were drifting away after a few minutes – although most agreed that the idea sounded great. The only thing left to do was show them a copy and wait…

Bringing news into the classroom

Since then, the response to Chicken Newspaper for Children has been consistently positive. Early issues were plagued by typos and editorial mistakes, but each issue has improved and slowly the idea has became clearer.

A fear of being misunderstood – or, should I say, a fear of a lack of empathy – led to an important decision not to sell the newspaper through bookstores. It was to be given away to schools. This would be partly paid for by the local business community, who were invited to sponsor a classroom at a time.

The Chicken Newspaper for Children now brings current affairs into the classroom in a unique way, which children in primary school can relate to. It is printed and published once a term and delivered to 30 to 40 schools in and around London. It is also available digitally.

Curiosity about the world

We have managed to talk to children about the first World War, the UK and US elections, the environment, family, food and sustainability, to name just a few large issues.

We have asked children to put themselves into the shoes of others and imagine what it is like to be refugee, without resorting to huge numbers and statistics.

We have increased their curiosity about the work in their neighbourhoods, as well as outside their borders.

We position ourselves alongside teachers and librarians, supplementing a curriculum but improving the skills that these young people are learning.

Our next act is to start involving children in the compiling and creation of the news, because then they will learn about teamwork, planning and problem solving, to say the least.

My next act is to use what I have learned from my young readers to create more interesting diverse and inclusive books for children.

Watch this space...

Find out more about the Chicken newspaper

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