Toitoi is a quarterly journal that celebrates the creative spirit of young writers and artists. MELISSA WASTNEY talks to editor Charlotte Gibbs about the inspiration behind this special publication, and how to maximise its use in the classroom.
MW: As a child, I would have been very excited to find a copy of Toitoi on the library shelf. How did it first come about?
CG: Me too! I loved reading as a child and spent a lot of my quiet time writing. It made me feel connected to the world and what was really going on. I loved Jabberwocky and enjoyed anthologies like Sweet Porridge. I remember being very excited when new issues came out. If today’s young readers could have that same experience and excitement when they get their hands on a new Toitoi, I would be thrilled.
A few years ago when my daughter Georgie was in year 3, she wrote a poem that she was very proud of. Her teacher sent it away to see if it could be published but nothing happened. Finally, she sent it to the US Children’s Poet Laureate, Patrick J Lewis. He read Georgie’s poem and very kindly wrote to her. She still keeps his letter on the pinboard in her room.
That got me thinking about what happens to the work of young people in New Zealand. I have a background in publishing so I offered to publish some writing and art at my children’s school, Vauxhall School. We put a very simple booklet together that contained the writing of two students at each year level, then we asked other students in the same syndicate to illustrate their work. We called it Vox and gave a copy to every student. I have a very strong memory of the day it arrived from the printers: when the bell rang, children gathered on the field and read it from cover to cover – it was very cool.
The following year, some of the teachers told me that they loved using the journal in their classrooms because it inspired their students and provided them with a real audience for their work. I wanted to see if the idea worked across multiple schools, so I invited all the schools in my area to submit some work. We developed the look and feel of the journal and produced another edition of Vox.
I then took a very big breath and sent a copy to every primary and intermediate school in the country, explaining the idea and asking for submissions. I received 660 pieces of writing and art from all over New Zealand. I couldn’t believe it. Grace McFarlane joined me and we launched Toitoi in October 2015.
How would you sum up the philosophy of the journal?
Toitoi looks young people in the eye. One of my favourite authors is EB White. He wrote Charlotte’s Web and the Stuart Little books. He said, “Anyone who writes down to children is simply wasting his time. You have to write up, not down. Children are demanding. They are the most attentive, curious, eager, observant, sensitive, quick and generally congenial readers on Earth. They accept, almost without question, anything you present them with, as long as it is presented honestly, fearlessly and clearly.”
I think this is absolutely true. Our aim is to treat young writers and artists with respect, handle their work with care, and produce a beautifully designed journal of high quality that reflects how much we value and admire them.
Why is it important that children are given plenty of opportunities to create original pieces of art and writing during the primary years?
Young people are bursting with creativity. They can’t keep it in. And they all express themselves in uniquely different ways. I see that even within my own family. I live with a 14-year-old musician, an 11-year-old baker and a nine-year-old writer. Each of them has engaged with something they feel passionate about that allows them to express who they are, connect with others and delight in what they are able to achieve.
I believe creativity needs to be celebrated and championed. If we can encourage our young people to be curious, courageous and creative, they will be able to thrive in a rapidly changing world.
What does ‘being published’ offer a young writer and artist?
Submitting work for publication gives the work of our young writers and artists a real purpose. To have work published means that it has an audience.
Young people’s voices are important and need to be heard. I would like our journal to be a place where all imaginations and ideas are celebrated; where we can learn about what we have in common and what makes us special.
Toitoi publishes writing and art that has an original and authentic voice that inspires our young readers and reflects the cultures and experiences of life in New Zealand.
How can teachers use the journal in their classrooms to inspire creativity?
When young people first pick up it up, they flick through it and peer closely at the illustrations. There are always lots of whoops as they look at the incredible artwork. They immediately check the credit to see how old the artist is! At its most simple, Toitoi is a great book to read; an anthology chock-full of stories, poems, cartoons, plays, songs etc that inspire young readers to become published writers and artists themselves.
Each term, Toitoi gives teachers 100+ pages of New Zealand content and 40+ original exemplars that they can use in the classroom to inspire their students to become actively engaged in their own learning. But we also know that teachers are incredibly busy so we produce teacher support materials for every issue of the journal. These offer ideas for sharing the work in Toitoi with students and guiding them to create writing and art of their own.
Toitoi: quick facts
Toitoi is published quarterly. Subscriptions for schools and individual teachers are available at www.toitoi.co.nz. The journal is also held in public libraries around the country.
In 2016 it was named Best Resource in Primary at the New Zealand Education Awards. The judging panel, made up of teachers and other education experts, commended Toitoi as highly innovative and refreshing, providing an ‘incredible experience’ for students to see their work published in such a quality journal.
This year Toitoi has been named one of eight recipients of the Copyright Licensing New Zealand (CLNZ) Contestable Fund.
Introduced in 2014, this fund supports strategic projects that demonstrate New Zealand publishing growth and development, including within education.
Submissions to Toitoi
Students aged five to 13 are encouraged to submit their original artwork and creative writing for consideration. Work in English or te reo Māori is welcomed.
From poems to stories, articles to paintings, each submission must be a student’s own work and something that has not been published previously. Visit www.toitoi.nz/submit for more information.
“The students are just thrilled with the journal. There’s nothing more powerful than seeing one’s work published and realising it has an audience.” – Anne Nichols, teacher, Waterview Primary, Auckland
“Having a forum like this for students’ work to be professionally published is so inspiring for young writers, and the editors are incredibly encouraging and supportive.The students shared their work with other classmates and helped each other to make their language precise, and their stories interesting with a good pulse.” – Mokoia Intermediate teacher Barbara O’Donnell, whose students Rupert, Katrina and Stella recently had work accepted for publication.
“Toitoi arrives at schools like a bee box. The children unwrap the coloured string and brown paper to become writers and illustrators.” – Kerrin Sharpe, Christchurch poet and creative writing teacher.
“To be published at any age is a real thrill and a life-long ambition for many writers. To be published in a quality publication such as Toitoi at such a young age is extraordinary.” –Melanie Koster, creative writing tutor, Russley School, Christchurch
Source: Education Gazette Focus (96.15)