Kazoo Is The Kickass Girls’ Magazine We Wished For Growing Up
By Stephanie Hallett
If you were anything like I was in grade school, you loved books and stories about strong girl characters. They may have been few and far between, but I sought them out and clung desperately to titles like The Baby-Sitters Club, Harriet the Spy, The Paper Bag Princess, and anything by Beverly Cleary. What I didn’t have, though, was a magazine that spoke to my interests, excited my imagination, and showed me what those strong-willed, independent girl characters looked like as real, grown up women. So when I heard about a soon-to-launch print magazine called Kazoo, aimed at girls ages 5 to 10, I was intrigued.
Kazoo is the brainchild of Erin Bried, a longtime Condé Nast writer and editor, and mom of two girls, aged 5 years and 8 months old, who grew tired of seeing magazines for girls filled mostly with style and etiquette tips.
“I started Kazoo after browsing the newsstand with my 5-year-old daughter one day, [because] I was upset — and honestly, kind of angry — at what I saw. I’m not sure there was a single title for young girls that didn’t include a story on doing their hair or having good manners. What’s more, every cover I saw featured a princess, a doll, or a young child wearing makeup.”
You won’t find any of that in Kazoo, which is set to arrive in mailboxes this July. Instead, expect to discover jokes, comic strips, interviews with inspiring women, articles on tech, tinkering, emotions and critical thinking, science experiments, art projects, and more.
The lack of newsstand options for young girls isn’t just an issue for moms like Bried who want to raise confident, active daughters — socializing girls to care more about their looks than their imaginations has a major effect on their development and success later in life. Nearly three-quarters of high-school age girls are interested in STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) fields. But the industry is so notoriously inhospitable to women that those eager, curious girls end up filling less than one-quarter of all STEM positions in the U.S., as women. And about 60% of girls aged 15 to 17 skip their normal daily activities when they feel bad about their looks. That means a lot of bright minds are being kept in the dark because they haven’t been given the opportunity to shine.
“I know we can do better for our girls,” Bried says. “In fact, we must, because this sort of messaging — that there’s only one right way for a girl to be (and that’s pretty and quiet) — has real and negative consequences.”
She points to the dismal numbers of women in Congress (80% men), engineering (89% men), and children’s books — where boy characters are three times more likely than girl characters to play the leading role — as evidence that this messaging has failed girls.
“We’ve got to let our girls know that they have other options. They can be loud. They can be messy. They can be strong. They can be adventurous. They can be intellectually curious about science, art, engineering — anything. Everything!”
Indeed, the name of the magazine is a rallying cry for every girl who has been told to keep quiet.
“The beauty of the Kazoo is that everybody already has what it takes to play one,” Bried writes on her Kickstarter page, where she crowdsourced over $170,000 to get the magazine off the ground and build the initial subscriber base. “Just breathe, and its loud, happy sound comes automatically. I want girls to feel the same way about their own voice — that they already have everything it takes to use it.”
Bried has already locked in a lineup of star women to contribute to the first issue. Contemporary artist Mickalene Thomas, who has shown her work at the Whitney and Guggenheim, has turned one of her portraits into a color-and-glitter-by-number project; James Beard Award-nominated chef Fany Gerson is sharing a recipe for Mexican ice pops, called paletas; and Fun Home writer and MacArthur Genius Alison Bechdel, who rarely publishes her work in magazines, is contributing a tutorial called “How to Draw a Cat.” (Bried explained that she and Bechdel are friends, and Bechdel’s cat comic was inspired by Bried’s 5 year old, the official Tiny Editor of KAZOO, “because she’s so fond of Alison’s cat, Donald.”)
While there are other titles on the market that aim to inspire girls, empower them, raise their self-esteem, or help them through tough life challenges and new emotions — examples include BYOU and New Moon Girls — they’re aimed at an older audience (8 and up). Magazines for younger kids are largely gender-neutral and/or focused on developing reading skills — not bad qualities to have, but nothing like what Kazoo aspires to.
And though there are plenty of places online where girls can discover projects, read stories about great women, and create digital art, Kazoo will be print-only — for good reason.
“Most parents would prefer it if their kids spent less time in front of screens, and I think kids prefer paper, too,” Bried explains. “In fact, children’s book sales increased by 13% last year, and that’s because kids enjoy, and even crave, turning real pages. Besides, by the time a girl is finished reading Kazoo, she will have drawn on, colored in and glued more than a few pages. You wouldn’t want her to do that to your iPad, would you?”
As a girl who turned to Sassy in my teen years — and then mourned its death — I so appreciate what Bried is trying to build.
We’ve long lived in a boy- and man-dominated media world, and the onslaught of new projects and multifaceted characters for girls is a welcome change. I may be outside the age demographic for Kazoo, but there are plenty of sassy girls in my life I’ll be sending a first year’s subscription to.