Grilled Cheese (the magazine, not the sandwich) is dishing out bilingualism and good design to kids
The children's magazine is bridging the gap between both official languages
Most anglophone children across Canada learn French at school with little immediate opportunity to use it, while francophone children frequently have the same experience with English. What's a kid to do?
Enter Grilled Cheese magazine, a bilingual magazine that uses a host of French and English-speaking artists and writers to bring articles, games and activities to children nationwide in both official languages.
Founders Catherine Ouellet-Cummings and Julien Boisseau are designers who run a small design and printing studio in Montreal, L'abricot. They started the magazine in 2014 after seeing a Belgian children's magazine, Cuistax, published in French and Dutch, Belgium's two main languages.
Just starting to experiment with Risograph printing — a simple printing press that prints one colour at a time that's popular with artists and designers — and wanting to create something accessible to their son, then six years old, the couple decided to create the first issue of Grilled Cheese.
"We wanted to do something for children, because they're a lot of fun and we can play with illustrations and text in all new ways," Ouellet-Cummings says.
The magazine's colourful two-colour format, roster of artists with backgrounds ranging from children's illustration to editorial illustration to comics and fun activities like cut-out paper pop-ups have won over young readers from Prince Edward Island to Vancouver.
In Montreal and further afield, Ouellet-Cummings and Boisseau frequently take Grilled Cheese on the road, tabling at events, festivals and book and small press fairs. "We meet a lot of new illustrators and writers," Ouellet-Cummings says.
"In Montreal, people are really interested in the bilingual aspect, but when we are in Ontario, or Halifax, the response to the French part is very great. We see people who are interested in that aspect of the magazine and they want to see how the text can be read in both languages," she explains. "The other way it's fun too is that it's very good for us — we work with English-speaking writers who I didn't know before...Children in Montreal and Quebec, they're learning English at school, and French is learned everywhere else."
Grilled Cheese's subscribers and readers include parents excited to have their children use newly-acquired language skills, teachers, students in immersion programs, francophone parents living in English-speaking areas and bilingual families, where parents come from different language backgrounds or a parent is eager to help anglophone kids communicate with francophone cousins. "It permits us to have subscribers all over our country," Ouellet-Cummings says.
As their son has grown up, the magazine has gradually grown up a little too — so Boisseau and Ouellet-Cummings will launch a new version this October. While previous issues have targeted kids aged five to ten, a new edition will have similar content aimed at children aged two to four. Under names that reflect that (Grilled Cheese 5-10 and Grilled Cheese 2-4), the companion magazines will feature the same colours and theme, with individual covers designed by the same illustrator. "We have this idea of brothers or sisters being subscribers to both magazines, and then they can read them together," Ouellet-Cummings says.
The new issue, themed around mountains, features poetry for parents and kids to read together, information about animals and vocabulary words in the edition for younger children and cutouts of mountain-themed finger puppets and 3D mountains.
Ouellet-Cummings acknowledges it tends to be a certain type of parent who picks up a two-colour Risograph magazine for their children, but sees the magazine appealing to kids who aren't conscious of the design choices. "Children, normally they like to read, to do some craft activities, so they respond very well. There's always a cutout in the magazine — the central pages can be cut out — and I know that this content is very well-liked by our readers."
Do those readers ever hesitate to cut up magazines? "We have this problem with many adults who don't want to cut the magazine, and we can understand perfectly, so we tell them that they can photocopy the page — but children, they like to tear the page up," Ouellet-Cummings laughs. "That's what paper is for."
Grilled Cheese issue 10 launches at Espace Pop, Montreal on October 22, 2017.