Sumeyra Ozcan Interview

Sumeyra Ozcan

Editor, Atlasia Kids

Could you tell us a bit about your background, including how you came to your current position as Editor for Atlasia Kids?

Although being a psychologist was the biggest dream of my youth, in my first year at university, I realized that while I wanted to learn psychology and loved the subject, I didn't necessarily want to be a psychologist. While contemplating how to build my career after graduating, I channeled my love of writing and submitted an essay and resume to a very well-known literary magazine in Turkey. The editor-in-chief of the magazine said that he was impressed with my writing skills and wanted to meet with me. This meeting was a turning point in my life. The editor became a mentor to me and helped me think about how I could turn my knowledge, interest, and love into a career: children's literature! It was the perfect field where I could combine my psychology background and passion for books and literature.

After this meeting, I began an internship in a children's magazine affiliated with the same publishing house. The experienced and professional team helped me learn things quickly and enabled me to grow. Now that I had made my final decision, I had already immersed myself in the magical world of children's literature. After graduating, I was hired at the same place and started working as an editor for Gonca Children's Magazine. Gonca was not only a magazine but also a media organization that made a name for itself in Europe with its many social responsibility projects. For example, we gifted saplings along with the magazine and planted more than 1,500,000 saplings with our readers in different countries. It was a huge opportunity to be a part of this visionary team.

In the first years of my career as an editor, I started my master's degree in publishing. It was one of the first publishing master's programs in Europe and enhanced my knowledge in the field to a great extent. I continued my publishing studies at Johannes Gutenberg University in Germany.

Later, while continuing my freelance work as an editor in Canada, we met with a group of children's publishers with the dream of making a new children's magazine and studied the market for months. Our biggest goal was to create the best magazine on the market, especially visually. Thus, Atlasia was born. We attended to every detail, from creating the name to the most minor page details. And now, in our second year, we proudly and happily reach thousands of readers from all over the world.

Atlasia is a monthly magazine for Muslim kids aged 7 - 11. How would you articulate its core mission?

Atlasia is the fruit of a Ph.D. project. Our editor-in-chief, Hasan Ahmet Gokce, during his doctoral studies at the University of Waterloo, designed a children's magazine as a project to facilitate the integration and integration processes of Muslim immigrant children into Canada. With the help of such a magazine, children would be able to improve their English and at the same time develop their religious knowledge. The magazine would also reinforce the sense of being a part of a society in children and increase their self-confidence. Therefore, we built Atlasia's main goals around these missions.

We designed Atlasia as a new world for children. When we researched available options for Muslim kids, we found that we could create more fun and inspiring magazine than those on the market. Our goal is to meet the needs and expectations of today's children, both in terms of content and visuals. Atlasia presents children with a fun and exciting world to engage with while also validating and strengthening what is often a marginalized identity.

At Atlasia, our main goals are to provide quality content to English-speaking children worldwide and introduce them to universal moral values. In addition to these, the magazine is not only used as a reading material; we position it as a playmate and as an opportunity to enable family communication. We recommend most activities presented in the magazine be conducted with family or friends. Thus, we aim to respond to our target audience's psychological and social needs.

Atlasia is the very meaning of a dream coming true. We've always dreamed of an inclusive magazine that embraces all kids, including Muslim kids worldwide, and offers them the best quality content. Atlasia is the fruit of this dream and years of hard work with a dedicated team.

Who is the team behind Atlasia Kids, and what are their respective backgrounds?

At the heart of Atlasia, there is our editorial team of 6 people. The entire curriculum, content, and visuals of the magazine are imagined and designed by this team. Our editor-in-chief, Dr. Hasan Ahmet Gokce, is an academic who has devoted 20 years of his life to children's publishing. He is a publisher specializing in literature, theology, and Islamic arts. Sarah Bayza, the most creative editor of all time, studied sociology and has a natural talent for writing for children. She observes the market very closely, which keeps us up to date on the latest trends and ideas. Betty Oz, the funniest member of the team, studied graphic design, and she adds that humorous touch which is the essential part of children's publishing. Ishmael Bay is an award-winning children's illustrator and graphic designer at the heart of our magazine's visual quality. And Maya Salem is a curriculum expert actively working with children in the field. Each team member is committed to integrating their knowledge into children's publishing. I am in love with this team's energy that works wonders together!

Of course, besides this core team, we have a great marketing team that aims to bring Atlasia to the best place. They are literally the best at giving us feedback by attending to the reader participation and activity feedback and marketing to our young readers in the best possible way.

In addition to these two teams, we have writers and illustrators from all over the world. They reveal what we dream of in the best possible way. I would say I cannot imagine the absence of even one of them.

What does a typical day look like as Editor?

After returning to our home offices due to the pandemic, I can say that I am currently doing my dream job as someone who likes to be at home, be on my own, and deal with books. The first thing in the morning is to check my mailbox and respond to urgent emails. I prefer not to leave any unanswered or delay my response to them. Then we hold our daily editorial meeting with the team and plan a division of labor on what we need to get done during the day. The rest of my day is spent meeting with the writers and illustrators, making plans for new content, and smiling at our readers’ emails. My dearest fluffy cotton candy cat is with me the whole day; my best luck. Really, who wouldn’t want to spend their workday with their best furry friend!

Atlasia Kids is jam-packed with gorgeous illustrations. Could you tell us about some of your most memorable collaborations with artists?

Oh, thank you so much! Atlasia’s most outstanding achievement is undoubtedly its visual quality. All the illustrators we collaborate with are so good that I don’t know which one to talk about. I can mention the first one that comes to my mind. One of our monthly sections is a puzzle page that we created by illustrating over 50 characters. Our editor, Sarah, builds all the characters one by one and fits her dream scene into a Word document. A short document of 20-30 pages :) We prefer to free our artists by saying certain things on most of our pages, but since this is a puzzle section and there are many scenes we want to have, Sarah describes every detail. Our talented illustrator, Vikke Samson, brings all of Sarah's characters to life so beautifully that we are amazed every time. There’s such a bond between them now that Vikke wonderfully adds new characters to the composition that Sarah didn’t write, and “I thought you might want something like that,” she says. That demonstrates this closeness that we have with our illustrators and that understanding each other is the most important thing to us.

Here are my favorites from this section:

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Image 1: Art by Vikke Samson, Concept by Sarah Bayza

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Image 2: Art by Vikke Samson, Concept by Sarah Bayza

Select three of your favorite Atlasia magazine covers to share with our audience.

Although we have just completed our first year, we have such beautiful covers that I don’t know which one to choose. Let me start with the most recent. This is our March 2022 issue’s cover drawn by Sara Nikforouz. Sara’s colors and unique style fascinate me. All she needs is the theme, and the rest is up to her incredible imagination. 

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Another is the cover drawn by Sepideh Baratian for our September 2021 issue. Sepideh’s style is entirely different; she is a cut-paste master! She first visualizes it in her imagination; then, she creates her illustration by cutting and pasting her papers. 

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And third, the first cover of Atlasia, a drawing by our beloved artist Olga Surina. Olga’s vibrant colors and cute characters exemplify the bar we want to set in our magazine. As you can see, even on our covers, we aim to include children from different backgrounds so that all children find something of themselves. While we created our magazine as a product for Muslim children, it is inclusive, and we hope that all children will find something for them in it.

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What portfolio advice would you offer illustrators looking to appeal to magazines like yours - are there specific styles or subject matters you're particularly interested in?

Rather than styles or subject matters, the first thing I personally look for is the artist’s love for children. Don’t be surprised if I say this; it’s usually clear from a portfolio whether the artist does their work with such passion or if they are simply using a skill. Regardless of skill and training, an artist who loves children can enter that world more easily and effortlessly bring us into the world they have created. Before technical details, I look for this magical atmosphere in portfolios. Other than that, the works that draw our attention in terms of style are those of artists who use colors very well. As for character designs, we care about facial expressions, body movements, and anatomy. For us, it’s great to see both editorial drawings and different character designs in portfolios.

Share the best piece of feedback you’ve received from a reader.

Most of the feedback we receive from our readers is about our modern and high-quality visual identity. I want to quote one of them directly because it is a summary of what Atlasia intends to do:

Dear editorial team of Atlasia Kids,

I wanted to commend you on the brilliant graphics, illustrations, and marketing you have done for this magazine. I will be subscribing for my girls - as a huge fan of Highlights Magazine yet never seeing the representation, and it is lovely to see what you have created here in such a modern yet Islamic way!

How do you strike the balance between fun & education in the magazine?

We see the magazine not as ordinary reading material but as a new world that offers different reading experiences. At this point, we use the power of graphics. We have an icon set we call Atlasia Toolbox. These icons are designed because our readers have different intelligence types, enabling them to have different experiences on our pages. For example, we present some folk tales and stories as audio stories for our auditory-intelligent readers and show them on our page with the “listen” icon. For our readers who like to do hands-on activities, we have a “do it” icon.

In addition, we include special instructions on some of our pages for different reading experiences that will improve the reading culture and, at the same time, entertain our readers. We write down notes such as “Read this page in the kitchen,” “Read this page under the table,” and “Read this page on the bus.” Thus, the reading experience becomes different for each child.

As I mentioned above, we include guidelines to enable social communication in the magazine. For example, we encourage them to share the personality quiz with their friends or recommend that they do the activities on some pages with their parents. In short, we aim to include fun and interactive activities on as many of our pages as possible.

What are the magazine's goals/dreams for the future?

Atlasia, for me, is like a message in a bottle. Every month we write a message on a piece of paper, roll it up, and put it in a nice bottle. Then we leave it adrift in the ocean. We do not know which shore it reaches or which child receives that message. All we want is to put a smile on the face of every single child who receives our message. Yes, this is our biggest dream!

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