Many publications in the United States target adults of specific ethnic groups. But surprisingly, until recently no publication targeted children of a specific ethnic group. Three years ago, though, Kahani magazine became a one-of-a-kind publication by offering contemporary stories, features, and illustrations especially for children of South Asian heritage. The quarterly magazine aims to entertain, educate, and empower children ages 6 to 11 with content that speaks to their day-to-day experiences. Additionally, kids can feel less isolated in knowing that other kids share their life experiences. The magazine is printed on thick, glossy paper with brilliant colors. It contains no advertising, in keeping with the belief that kids don’t need to be exposed to even more ads than they already are, and none of the staff or contributors are paid. Kahani just won a Parents’ Choice Award, the ultimate seal of approval for children’s media, so learn more about the magazine in this week’s Nonprofit Spotlight.
About the non-profit
Kahani is the only magazine of its kind in the US – original, contemporary stories, features and illustrations created specifically to entertain, empower and educate kids of South Asian descent growing up in the US. All our contributors are extremely talented. Many are professional writers and artists and others are upcoming talent. The amazing thing is no other ethnic group in the US – not the Hispanics, not the Chinese – has created such an offering for its children. And, believe it or not, no one – no one – at Kahani is paid.
What are your day-to-day responsibilities?
Monika is the Founding Editor. She brainstorms the theme and features of each issue, recruits and coordinates the writers and illustrators, and edits their work.
Sonia is the Creative Director. She builds and maintains the entire website and is our go-to person in general for all things design and graphics-oriented.
Sunitha is the Business Director. Basically, she handles the PR and marketing, the customer database and finances.
Monika and Sunitha are the basic staff. They handle all the operational stuff: fulfilling subscriptions, bulk mailings, renewal reminders, dealing with the printer, the fulfillment house, the post office, all the hundreds of details of publishing a magazine. They are headquartered in Monika’s attic : ).
Most notable milestones
Kahani just won a Parents’ Choice Award! This is the ultimate seal of approval any children’s product can receive and a huge validation of the quality of Kahani’s content and presentation. What gives us fierce pride is that Kahani won alongside the likes of Sesame Street Magazine and American Girl – both of whom have deep-pocketed parent entities.
And, speaking of awards: last year, Kahani won two other mainstream recognitions from the Association of Educational Press (AEP) and the National Association for Multicultural Education (NAME).
Not bad for a little literary magazine, huh?
What’s the niche?
Pick up an issue of Kahani: just about everything!
The quality of the paper we print on is thick and glossy. No other kids’ magazine uses anything like it. The color! Since we don’t have in-house artists and recruit different ones for each issue, no two issues of Kahani are alike. Each one is gorgeously illustrated and the art really pops out at you.
The content is absolutely unique as well. Take our current issue whose theme is “Making Music.” The issue has three stories. The lead (on the pains of practicing an instrument) is written by Narinder Dhami of “Bend It Like Beckham” fame and illustrated by Ambreen Butt, a Lahore-trained contemporary miniaturist who recently won Boston’s Museum of Fine Arts’ Maud Morgan Award. One of the features in the issue teaches children basic “taals” or rhythms through the use of popular nursery rhymes. Kids can then get on our website and listen to actual demonstrations of the taals. The person spotlighted in this issue is Indira Mahajan, an opera singer of South Asian descent (the philosophy of this column is to highlight non-traditional success stories as far as possible).
So we’re the perfect mix of what kids growing up here experience: the mainstream with a distinct South Asian flavor. That’s our unique niche.
What’s the biggest challenge?
The number one challenge we face today is awareness! Just getting the South Asian community in North America to know we exist is an ongoing struggle. Since subscription fees barely cover printing and mailing costs, and since we take absolutely no ads (the last thing kids need is to be bombarded with yet more advertising), we have no – as in zero – marketing budget. So we rely heavily on word-of-mouth buzz and press coverage.
The other challenge we face is the notion South Asian parents seem to harbor that contemporary literature is unnecessary – and certainly not worth paying for! Being secular and in English appears to go against the prevailing attitude that language and religion are the only true way to stay connected to one’s heritage.
Sunitha: I really would like to tell all South Asian parents: I agree with you on the importance of our kids knowing their mother tongue and their religious roots – but let’s not stop with that. Let’s also include what’s pertinent to our kids, what surrounds them on a day-to-day basis, what reflects their life experiences. It can only enrich them. It’s a lot less isolating to know that their experiences are shared by other kids just like them.
What’s in store for the future?
We would love to be the number one contemporary resource for South Asian families. The magazine, a quarterly, is currently directed at the elementary school level (ages 6-11) and is only the first step. We think there is a huge void for the tween and teen populations as well that we would love to address.
We also plan to start a blog in the coming months based on the same model as the magazine: by harnessing all the knowledge, expertise, experience and education in the South Asian community on one central platform so everyone can benefit from it.
Guiding principle in life
We, the adults, the parents, must create a community for our kids in this country that is broader, and less region-based, in its inclusiveness.
Yardstick of success
When every South Asian family subscribes to Kahani and every town and school library carries copies to educate the rest of the world!
Goal yet to be achieved
Breaking even on the costs!
Our editorial board who stand unfailingly by us for every issue:
Lisa Diercks, Director of the Graduate Program, Emerson College
Nancy Gruver, Publisher at New Moon
Uma Krishnaswami, writer
Mitali Bose Perkins, writer
What motivated you to get started?
The fact that when we volunteered at reading time in our kids’ schools we were invariably reading stories about maharajahs, elephants, snakes, spells and other exotifying topics.
Like best about what you do?
Sunitha: I had no idea about the depth of skill of South Asian writers and illustrators until I joined Kahani.
Like least about what you do?
Explaining to people that Kahani is not about us making our fortunes and that the subscription money does not go into our pockets!
Who would you like to be contacted by?
In the long run, any publisher, mainstream or otherwise! South Asians are one of the fastest growing populations in this country and in order to serve them we’d like to partner with anybody (including philanthropic millionaires!) who can help take us to the next level.
In the short run, anyone with design, editorial, circulation, networking/marketing experience who would like to volunteer some time to Kahani.