Writing for Children's Magazines
An Ezine

   Interview with Skipping Stones Editor Arun Toké 



We are so fortunate to have Arun Toké with us to share some information about the award-winning magazine Skipping Stones. Thank you, Arun, and welcome!

Can you begin by sharing a little about yourself, Arun? Your award-winning magazine has been published for 24 years. How and why did you begin Skipping Stones?

I was born and raised in Central India, and after graduation from college, I came to the United States for graduate studies. The idea of Skipping Stones was conceived at a Gandhian Ashram in India, in January 1986 at an international peace conference. I decided to carry the torch and returned to the U.S.

The idea behind creating Skipping Stones magazine has always been to promote peace, to help build a peaceful world and to empower children. We felt that promoting an understanding of the people, their languages, cultures and traditions, and appreciating nature and ecology would go a long way in building a peaceful world. We wanted to make a difference in the world and we hope we are contributing in a small way to make the world a better place for all.

We published the first issue of Skipping Stones in 1988 at the Aprovecho Institute in Cottage Grove, Oregon, where I was the publication manager at that time.

I founded Skipping Stones, Inc. as a non-profit, educational organization to serve children and youth and to promote multicultural understanding and nature awareness. Our mission is to provide a forum for youth to share their ideas and experiences through writing and art. The forum encourages awareness and celebration of cultural diversity, resource conservation, peace and non-violence, social issues, and environmental understanding essential for long-term sustainability. We are also a resource for parents and educators. Our readers and contributors come from diverse cultural and socioeconomic backgrounds. Our subscribers and readers are families, schools and libraries, widely scattered in US, Canada (and elsewhere). Skipping Stones is also available on several full-text websites such as Ebscohost as well.

What's your favorite part of your job?

Of course, reading letters and emails of appreciation from our contributors and readers, especially students, has to be the most favorite part of my job. As the person responsible for all the day-to-day aspects of a small nonprofit, I must continue to look for ways to generate income, write grants, oversee the production and distribution of the magazine, conduct the awards programs and, yes, balance our budget. So when we receive big subscription orders (including multiple copy subscriptions and gift subscriptions), sizable donations and grants—all that green energy which translates into having enough cash flow—that also pleases me. It surely reflects on the quality and content of our magazine.

For those who might not be familiar with Skipping Stones, please tell us a little about it. What sets Skipping Stones apart as a magazine?

Skipping Stones focuses on multicultural awareness and nature understanding. We also publish articles on international experiences and social issues, for example: diversity of cultures, religions, languages, life styles, etc., topics that are important to teen girls and boys, personal growth, poverty and homelessness, global climate issues, and of course, peace and justice issues. I think these issues are not usually included in the content of a typical children's magazine. But we wish to aim high. We want to prepare our future citizens for the world they will inherit. Youth and adult writers share the same forum and thus we provide an intergenerational dialogue. We try to provide a forum where everyone is equal.

What do you particularly look for in a submission? What gets you excited?

A good submission has a good beginning, good content and flow, and of course, a great ending. For us, a good submission is under 1,000 words. We want short stories, interviews, and non-fiction pieces that are not preachy or judgmental. We love multicultural characters, multilingual dialogues and international outlook in the stories. We believe readers should be honored and not talked down to. Your contribution should challenge readers to think, learn, cooperate and create.

Any tips for writers or illustrators who might want to break into Skipping Stones? Suggestions that will increase their chances of acceptance?

Submissions that are unique, intercultural or international in setting, and/or are accompanied by good illustrations or quality photographs increase their chances of being accepted. We also love submissions that arise from your direct experiences in a culture or country, and are written in first person. In other words, we want authentic pieces—the ones that will not generate stereotypes. Submissions that we tend to like are both educational and entertaining.

Sending complete manuscripts is a good idea because we can see what you have to offer, especially in this age of electronic communication. However, we also do receive queries, and we try to respond to them in a timely fashion. If you want to send a query, be specific about what you intend to write on, what style you might choose, and for what age group it is intended. Either e-mailed (cover letter and a Word.doc manuscript) or snail mailed hard copy with a SASE are equally welcome. Each submission is read and reviewed by at least three readers in our office before we accept it. So, sometimes, it can take a little longer to receive a response from us.

You give very helpful submission guidelines on your website, including a list of ideas for submission. Are any of these categories on the list ones you'd particularly like to see more submissions for?

Submissions on challenging disabilities, turning points in life, raising caring kids, cross-cultural communications, living abroad, travel stories and photo essays on a specific country, culture, region or ecosystem, role models, and well-crafted folktales with a great message are cherished by our editors and student readers.

I assume that submissions for quizzes, riddles, puzzles, and cooperative games need to have a multicultural theme. Do you have other guidelines, requests, or things to avoid with these items?

Well, for these items, either cross-cultural or nature awareness is what we wish to aim for in our pages. While we are not opposed to publishing adult contributions in this area, we generally prefer if these items come from younger contributors, ages 7 to 18. And, once again, we'd love these as bilingual pieces-- they tend to be short and therefore, lend themselves well to being duel-language pieces, without over-burdening the pages.

In a typical issue of Skipping Stones, how does the number of pieces written or illustrated by young people compare with the number by adults?

In a typical issue, the number of pieces contributed by young people is definitely much higher, possibly as much as 3:1. For example all poems, typically, about 20 to 25 in an issue, are by young people. However, adult contributions tend to be longer stories or non-fiction pieces that are between 500 to 1000 words. So, they occupy many pages in the issue. Every now and then, we might feature an illustrator or artist from a specific cultural background or a photo-essay by a professional photographer who might also offer professional advice to young people on how to excel.

Do you have any other information about Skipping Stones you'd like to share with us?

Definitely. Most of our magazine articles and stories are by new (to us) writers. We encourage young (as well as adult) contributors from various ethnic, international and multicultural backgrounds. Most of the youth we publish are new, budding authors and artists. We know of several of our first-time contributors who have gone on to become established authors with many books to their credits.

We don't want book reviews as we do those in-house. Also, no poetry by adults, please. We receive more than we can use of writings for very young readers. We prefer to publish pieces for our target age of 8 to 15. At times, we do make some exceptions to our submission guidelines. For example, if we get a bilingual poem from a Latin American adult poet, we will certainly consider it... similarly, depending on the nature of the submission, we will allow an author to exceed the suggested word length.

We are a small, nonprofit, non-commercial, literary. We invite you to consider your contribution as a labor of love; as a contribution for promoting multicultural and nature awareness. While we do not "pay" you monetarily, we do send you complimentary contributor's copies and a 40% discount on subscription in case you choose to subscribe (or give gift subscriptions to your young friends), and for extra copies that you may need in the future.

We are now in our 25th year! We have received recognitions from several national organizations. We try to operate on an ecological, energy-conserving model. We do not carry advertisements and always use recycled paper and soy-based ink and print locally.

Lastly, we also offer two honor awards programs:

• For youth under 18, the Annual Youth Honor Awards program that recognizes ten youth or youth organizations, for their creative writing and art or social service.

• For adult authors and artists, the Annual Book Awards program that recognizes up to 25 exceptional multicultural and nature awareness books and teaching resources for all grade levels.

The guidelines for these programs are available on our website, www.skippingstones.org.

Thank you so much, Arun, for taking the time to share with us this helpful information and for being a part of creating such a wonderful magazine for youth.

For you writers who are now inspired to query something to this outstanding magazine, the submission guidelines are here: www.skippingstones.org/submissions.htm.

Writing for Children's Magazines, December 2012


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