Ben 10, Dora the Explorer, In the Night Garden, Power Rangers, Charlie & Lola. All great shows for the kids – entertaining, even educational at times, and we all need the little break from the 24/7 they afford us every now and then.
The downside of the success of these kind of programs is the inevitable progression of the brand into every facet of your life – toys, games, clothing, books, keyrings, stationery, cutlery, bedding, and even underwear. There seems to be no end to the depths today’s licensers are willing to plunder in order to make some extra bucks. I’m sure George Lucas only invented Podracing so there could be a half decent video game for Episode I.
One area of this invasion that is getting more and more prevalent these days is the tie in magazine. No sooner has the first episode of a show hit the screens, the first issue of the magazine hits the shelves. And the magazines are so formulaic, it’s like you could change the whole magazine just by swapping out a CSS file.
Which is why it’s so great that every once in a while something like Okido comes along. The creators were just as despairing that all they could find for their own children were the shiny, inhospitable film and TV spin-off magazines, full of cheap plastic toys, that they decided to create something themselves to fill the gap.
The result was Okido, an art and science magazine for 2 to 7 year-olds containing all the same kinds of activities as those run of mill spin-offs – stories, comic strips, makes, games & puzzles – but it’s completely un-branded and looks like nothing else on the market. Each issue has a theme which flows though the whole magazine, so far there has been one covering the senses, one about germs, and another about the digestive system – so plenty of poo gags there then! The latest issue was all about the 40th anniversary of the moon landings and arrived on our doorstep on the actual day.
The illustration styles range from hand drawn biro scribbles to crisp, colorful vectors. The stories feature lively, imaginative characters and are quirky, dreamlike and almost trippy in their writing style. One of our favourites is Squirrel Boy – tagline: “When Albert puts on his homemade suit, he becomes… Squirrel Boy” – it’s pure superhero fantasy stuff and the fact that it looks like it could have been drawn by one of the magazine’s target audience only adds to its appeal. Zim, Zam & Zoom deliver the main serious science message from each issue in a beautifully simple way that kids can understand easily.
As with all of the best kid-targeted TV out there, an adult can find the odd thing to keep them interested too. The best example of this is ‘Seek. Locate.‘ – a ‘Where’s Waldo’ kind of searching puzzle, where the aim is to find Foxy. However, the illustrators always hide plenty of easter eggs in the pictures for the adults to spot too – I’ve seen Harry Potter on a broomstick, Elliot and ET flying past the moon and even Batman in bed, dreaming of Spiderman. These are great for firing a kid’s imagination and give you plently to talk about on the many re-readings you’ll inevitably have before the next issue arrives.
The ‘makes’ section has a good mix of the edible and the playable. “Bagel Snakes” were a very popular lunch for a while and the cardboard tube/elastic band guitar had several broken strings before eventually being recycled. And on the subject of recycling, the whole magazine is printed on 100% recycled paper, using biodegradable vegetable based inks. Add to this the fact that there are no adverts for junk that you don’t need and you’ve got a very ‘green’ read.
The downside (or is it the upside?) of all this quirky uniqueness is the fact that there are only 4 issues a year and the stockists are limited – growing, but still limited. The best way to get it is with a subscription – six issues for £20 in the UK, or £30 with international shipping. Obviously, this makes it quite expensive per issue, but as each one is more like a book, they’ll be around a lot longer than the cheaper magazines.
The people behind Okido run workshops in local schools, themed in the same way as the current issue and there’s usually a launch party for each issue where families can go along and test out the latest makes or just chat and play with other readers. The next issue, a collaboration with the children’s charity The Place2Be, is out on the 15th of October and is set to explore aspects around “Feelings and Emotions”. There’s a launch party for it on Saturday the 17th at The Doodlebar in Battersea, London.
I know one little girl who can’t wait…