At first glance, a visit to the children's section of the newsstand can be a big disappointment.
There are a lot of magazines out there marketed to kids, but put plainly, a lot of them are crap. There are tons of teeny-bopper magazines aimed primarily at tweens featuring the likes of Dylan and Cole Sprouse. (For the uninitiated, they play Zack and Cody on the preteen megahit 'The Suite Life of Zack and Cody' and are, like, the Sean Cassidy of today ' except in the form of identical twins.)
There are cheerleading magazines. There are videogame mags and periodicals devoted to Japanese games like Yu-Gi-Oh! and PokÃmon. Kids may enjoy these, but they may not be the types of titles you as a parent want to encourage.
But the newsstand (or, if you want to save some dough, the periodical area of your local library) is worth a closer look. Kids enjoy magazines for the same reason we do: It's something new that doesn't require the commitment of a longer book, a little treat that arrives in the mailbox now and then. And there is a wealth of options out there, from the mundane to the unusual.
Some readily available magazines will look familiar; for instance, Sports Illustrated offers a version for kids, as do Time and others. And believe it or not, Highlights is still around. This dentist's waiting room staple celebrated its 60th anniversary this year. Those illustrations of evil and good, Goofus and Gallant, are still with us. But there's no need to stick with these.
Ranger Rick and its sibling, Your Big Backyard, are both long-timers that merit a read, especially if your child is interested in animals and nature. Published by the National Wildlife Federation, the upbeat Ranger Rick is aimed at kids 7 and over, while Backyard targets 3- to 7-year-olds. There is also Wild Animal Baby for 1- to 4-year-olds.
Cricket, founded in 1973 with a stated goal of being 'the New Yorker for children,' is still around today. The magazine continues to offer high-quality fiction, accompanied by splendid illustrations. It's geared toward 9- to 14-year-olds. In addition to stories (often on a single theme for a unified issue), Cricket includes poetry, a crossword puzzle and a craft, science or cooking project. Cricket is packed with articles ' and at about $3 an issue (with a one-year subscription), it's worthwhile.
If your young reader doesn't fit within that age group, Cricket's parent company, Carus Publishing, offers a number of other alternatives with the same vibe. There's Babybug, for toddlers, Ladybug for ages 2-6, Spider for 6- to 9-year-olds and Cicada for older teens. All of the mags are well done and tailored to suit their particular age group. For instance, Babybug is in a smaller format and is printed on heavier paper in order to better stand up to the drooling and mauling of the under-2 set.
Carus also offers a mind-boggling array of nonfiction magazines that address different topics. My son, an American history buff, eagerly anticipates the arrival of Cobblestone each month. An issue might explore a famous American, or issues of government (how congress works, the Bill of Rights, the Constitution), or significant places (the Great Lakes, Hollywood). A recent issue even included Fighting Bob La Follette in an imaginary roundtable with Bella Abzug, Nancy Pelosi and Jefferson Davis, among others.
In the same vein, Odyssey is a science mag, Faces addresses geography and Muse is a collaboration between Cricket and Smithsonian magazine. While it's aimed at kids ages 10 and up, Muse is quite sophisticated. A recent issue featured an article on a psychological tool called the Implicit Association Test, written by Blink author (and New Yorker staff writer) Malcolm Gladwell.
Stone Soup looks like a literary magazine, and for that matter it is, with writing and art by 8- to 13-year-olds. It's published every other month, and both the illustrations and the writing are high quality and a great inspiration for any kid with creative tendencies.
Skipping Stones is also largely built on contributions from its readers, but with a focus on cross-cultural communication and exchange. The patient reader will find some high-quality content, and certainly the goal of the magazine is admirable. But truth be told, the layout and graphics are fairly awful. Is there a reason readers should be subjected to church-newsletter-quality design just because they are children? Probably this is best to consider if you are looking for a cross-cultural magazine for a specific purpose rather than a general-interest magazine to entertain your child.
The oddly named Crinkles is designed for kids between 7 and 11; its stated goal is to 'stimulate a child's curiosity about people, places, things and events ' both real and imaginary.' The magazine clusters a number of stories that relate to a single theme, usually geographical, and also suggests activities. The current issue focuses on Romania and offers up stories focusing on Nadia Comaneci, composer George Emescu, vampires and Romanian folk tales, among other topics.
The even more oddly named Moo-Cow Fan Club is an ad-free, topic-based magazine aimed at ages 8 and up. The most recent issue features tales of pioneers, hosted by its usual cast of cartoon characters, many of whom look suspiciously like G-rated R. Crumb creations. (Other theme issues have zoomed in on Japan, Egypt, insects, the weather, sports, space and baby animals.) The magazine is printed in an appealing two-color combination that changes each issue. Moo-Cow gets a gold star for attempting to exist outside of popular culture, while at the same time reaching out to kids in a way that's funny and not patronizing. Given a choice between Moo-Cow and Crinkles, I'd choose Moo-Cow because the ongoing characters and terrific design make it extremely appealing to a broad spectrum of kids.
New Moon: The Magazine for Girls and Their Dreams is edited by a group of 8- to 14-year-old girls (along with adult advisers, of course). The magazine features mostly reader-written pieces, although many of the contributors are older than 14. The tone is decidedly feminist, with articles that speak against stereotypes and advice about political organizing. Still, there's room for a craft project or two. The publishers also put out a newsletter called Daughters, aimed at the parents of girls. New Moon is a good bet for any tween girl who has an independent or feminist streak that you want to support or encourage.
Older girls may be more interested in Teen Voices. Like New Moon, it's reader-written and political, but with more of a glossy magazine look, featuring cover models who look like real teenage girls ' braces, acne and all. The current issue encourages readers to address global hunger, salutes a teenage girl who solicited textbooks and cash donations for students in West Africa, and a rant by a freshman girl about how terrible it is to be a ninth-grader. Unlike many of the other magazines mentioned in this article, it is not advertising-free, but the ads tend to be for things like Rockrgrl Magazine and Ani DiFranco's latest album.
For older teens of both sexes, Look Look is 'the magazine by young photographers, writers and artists.' Look Look solicits and publishes work by people between the ages of 14 and 30. Much of the visual artwork published in this well-designed magazine is quite striking. Some of the fiction and poetry veers toward the sophomoric. Since this is not, strictly speaking, a magazine just for teens, some parents may hesitate at some of the adult-oriented content. Also, a look at its Web site brings to light the fact that this isn't just a magazine. It's actually a magazine fronting a company that does research, design and viral/guerrilla marketing for manufacturers who hope to make their products cool with the cool kids. Which goes a long way toward explaining why the magazine itself looks so cool. This one may appeal more to visually oriented teens; if you're looking for fiction or nonfiction, look elsewhere.