The back cover of the new children's magazine shows a drawing of a familiar star's face, adorned with wide, smiling teeth. It is an advertisement for "Farrah Faucet false teeth," and touts "a set of pearly white gems that practically glows in the dark."
The phony ad on the back is just one of the many controversial aspects of a new, experimental magazine designed to help children make more informed decisions as consumers.
Consumers Union, the nonprofit organization that publishes Consumer Reports, is testing a new, magazineformat publication called "Penny Power," which CU hopes will go into full-scale distribution next fall through sales to school systems across the country.
Aimed at students in the fourth, fifth and sixth grades -- particularly urban and minority children -- the publication is funded partially by a grant from the U.S. Office of Consumers' Education.
A bilingual publication -- English and Spanish -- the magazine uses a comic-book format to ridicule various sales pitches used by many kinds of companies over several kinds of media.
One page, for example, shows sketched renditions of television ads for Perdue chicken, in which the company president, Frank Perdue, claims that his chickens "taste good... because they eat good."
In text under the ad, however, the magazine claims that a Consumers Union test of 398 chickens, including some Perdue chicken, showed that "no one brand was best tasting!"
"The only thing you can be sure of with brand names is higher prices," the magazine says. "After all, some body has to pay for all these commercials."
"Our objective is to start making kids aware of how popular people, or popular fads, are used to sell products to them," said CU's Charlotte Baecher.
"We aren't passing judgment on the products, but we want to make the kids more aware of what they are being told so they can make a better choice," she quickly added.
Test-marketed in New York City last year, themagazine will expand its circulation to more than 100 schools in 10 cities -- including Washington, D.C. -- before fullscale distribution next fall.
"We developed this project to meet a perceived need," Baecher said. "This is a very important project for Consummers Union. We have published Consumer Reports for 43 years, but this is a very important audience we have never reached before."
Brenda Thomas, formerly of Sesame Street and the Electric Company -- children's television shows -- will edit the magazine.
Many of the children receiving test copies will be interviewed by an independent research firm for their reactions and suggestions.