In today's digital world where children using smart devices are ubiquitous, a bilingual children’s magazine named Kroojchmar aims to inspire creative passions and perhaps suggest future vocations to its young readers.
Founded by French former design teacher Dorothée Etienne and Cambodian children’s story author and editor Prum Kunthearo, the magazine was named after the Khmer word for lime. Its first edition will be released in October.
“Kroojchmar will be a very accessible and dynamic way to talk about sparking creativity. It’s a name that resonates with children, as kids are often affectionately compared to little citrus fruit in the Cambodian language,” Etienne told The Post.
On the cover of the magazine, the Khmer letters of the title are stylised as a pair of curious eyes.
“The hidden message is probably to be found in the little eyes that are in loops of the two central characters. It is a way to express the curious mindset needed to look for creative inspiration,” he explained.
Etienne, who has lived in the Kingdom for more than 6 years, previously worked as a graphic design teacher in different schools. She grew up surrounded by resources that contributed to developing her creativity. She devoured issue after issue of magazines, slowly growing her passion for design.
In Cambodia, she has observed an amazing design heritage that needs to be valued, but also noted that most resources available to grow creativity are imported and do not explore Cambodian imagery.
“The fact that there are currently no magazines available for kids was another factor in launching the project. There is a gap that needs to be filled,” she said.
There use to be other children’s magazines like “Tam Tam” available in Cambodia, but they had vanished due to the popularity of screen time among children.
Stealing back screen time
Etienne admitted that her team sincerely wished to steal back part of the time that kids spent on tablets and phones and advocate for more creativity through making and manipulating things.
“Paper is the best first material to make ideas happen! Our vision is not to compete with screens, but I do believe that before they are ready to create things using software, a future designer needs to prototype, test, fail and do it again in real life. Paper, or any other low cost resources that they can find around them, are ideal,” she added.
A year and a half ago, she began ongoing exploratory research on the topic, in parallel with her work as a designer. In March, she spoke to Kunthearo about the project and decided to commit to working on it full-time.
After more than one year of research – and a four month design sprint – the team printed a pre-publication test pressing to confirm the interest of children in the content and design.
The magazine entered a test phase in four remote villages, via Sipar, an NGO which works on illiteracy reduction and reading habits promotion in Cambodia through mobile libraries.
“Among other points, we found that kids were not discouraged by the black and white format – on the contrary, colouring in is a great entry point for them to read and play,” she said, adding that children had sought out the magazine, even among more colourful offerings by Sipar.
“When they returned our magazine to the library a week later, they all reported that they had spent time reading it during the week. They were able to tell us their favourite sections and those they didn’t understand. We collected a lot of useful feedback,” she added.
She said half of the children said that they had gone through the magazine with their brothers and sisters, their neighbours or their parents, which was fantastic proof of the interactivity of the resource.
“And all of them asked to receive the second issue! The feedback we got from families was awesome,” Etienne added.
Parents offer support
Kong Socheata, mother of Alisa and Chomreoun, from Takeo, loved the creative topics in the magazine and personally believed that parents would learn alongside their children.
“Creativity is often neglected in Cambodian education. Every two months my kids will encounter different characters through the magazine. This means they will be exposed to a different skill set – which will favour their cognitive development. This type of content is not yet available at their school,” she said.
Viseth from Phnom Penh, a father, found multiple benefits to the magazine. His child was learning, having fun, boosting her creativity and practicing bilingual language at the same time.
“My daughter opened the magazine and said ‘wow’. She reads the English and tries to understand what they are explaining. She follows the pages and does the exercises and games. She also follows the craft instructions,” he said.
The first issue focuses on urban mobility and features Sothy, an architect and urban planner. The team wanted to begin their creative journey in Phnom Penh, before embarking on the exploration of other towns and provinces.
“Phnom Penh is an inspiring environment to approach street life and the people that contribute to its vibrant dynamism. The architect is a key character in the city because he is the one that imagines the experience of living together,” said Etienne.
By showcasing a member of the creative community in each issue, Kroojchmar wants kids to be exposed to different kind of creative fields.
Besides the co-founders, each issue was the result of work by around eight other talents, including authors, illustrators and graphic designers.
“The composition of the team will change with each issue. It is a good way to expose children to different styles of illustration and also allows us to offer work to different freelancers,” she said.
They will produce six issues per year, each focussed on a different topic which is linked to the main field of design; ways to move around, feed yourself, rest, organise the house, dress up or practise sports, and so on.
“Our second issue is about creative snack recipes and food packaging and will be based in Battambang, for example,” she said.
There will also be an accompanying YouTube channel which will offer audio support to guide readers and improve their pronunciation.
The magazine has two profiles for subscribers. Individuals who discovered the project at a recent Siem Reap book fair or those who found them through their Facebook page would pay $21 for one year’s subscription. Collective subscriptions, for schools, NGOs or hotels would receive discounted rates. If an NGO ordered for more than 100 kids, for example, the rate would drop to just $12 per year for each kid.
“There is no way for us to reduce the fees we offer to the talented people we work with, so the only way we can reduce our prices is to increase the amount of subscribers,” she said.
The team are now developing presales, with their main challenge being to introduce Kroojchmar to more partners. Fortunately, word of mouth is working very well and now people are reaching out directly to the team.
“We have met with a lot of schools and NGOs, but we have also had hotels, restaurants and real estate development companies express interest in subscribing for their clients,” she added.
With their commitment to keeping the price of the magazine as accessible as possible, price, the team hope families will invest in this resource for their kids.
“Ultimately, we want to contribute to the emergence, formation and promotion of the design community in Cambodia,” she concluded.