CAES arts & literary e-zine, Zeenalini, now in its 4th year

On the cover: Students work on the magazine; one student’s offering and the latest Zeenalini cover.

By Wendy Svec

Zeenalini, the arts and literary online magazine of Chester-Andover Elementary School,  now in its fourth year, has published the works of more than 50 local students in its latest edition. Any student, ages 5 to 12, can enter a submission for publication. The entries range from poetry to paintings to recipes and also can be class assignments or  works created at home.

Zeenalini began with about 15 students and a few parent volunteers, who shaped the feeling and scope of the magazine. They wanted the magazine to be inclusive and fun. And they wanted it to be eco-friendly and accessible to all. So the idea of producing it completely free and online became part of the mission. Most importantly, the students wanted to be involved in all aspects of production: layout, research, typing, graphics and distribution.


So where did the name Zeenalini come from? It’s silly to say and made-up, which lets people know the content will be fun and original. It also mixes the words tween and zine. A zine is a type of homespun magazine. Adding -ini to the ending is a nod to its youngest contributors.

Scanning the issue, as it automatically “flips” pages, it is fascinating to see how student ability develops over time. Entries from kindergarteners, such as The Story of the Bumble Bee, show the first joy of matching pictures to words and being able to tell a story. Contrast this with the work by upper elementary students who begin to turn those simple stories on their head, as in the poem Merrily, which paints a new picture of how life is “but a dream.” Or consider the story My Subterranean World,  which plays with the idea of language: How long can we string a fantastical tale using one prefix?

It is also interesting to see how pieces stemming from the same topic still differ. Teachers at the school are using the magazine to showcase some of the work they do in the classroom. Take the case of the “How-To” pieces by a second grade class. One student wrote precise instructions on cake making while another wrote a comic piece on digging out in winter. These students are learning the fundamentals of writing and drawing, yes, but they clearly are also finding their own voices.

There is also a range of emotions that shine through in the issues. Happily, there is no shortage of childhood joy and innocence in many pieces. It is impossible to read without smiling a haiku about rolling down a grassy hill or a story about teasing a kitten with a feather.

But there are also pieces about growing up and yearning to try new things. One spread documents through photography a class dealing with the mature topic of death. The school community was deeply grieved by the tragic death of Carly Ferro, the teenage daughter of grade 3-4 teacher Ellen Ferro.

What words could ever adequately express the deep sorrow for this loss? And how would an 8-year-old know how to find them? Assistant teachers in the classroom turned to art. Ferro’s students created origami angels: Each one a gift to the spirit of Carly.

It is the kind of talent that isn’t highlighted on an athletic field or a concert stage—or on a standardized test for that matter—but it is important nevertheless. As one student put it, “I might want to be a writer one day. The magazine gives me a chance to see what that’s like.”

The author is a founder of Zeenalini.

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