It was probably inevitable that the baroque and pricey strollers of the '80s would be followed by a children's magazine boom in the '90s.
University of Mississippi journalism professor Samir Husni estimates that 25 magazines for kids have been created since 1985, and the past 18 months have been particularly busy. "It's a booming market," says Husni, head of the school's magazine program. "We are seeing more and more magazines coming out and aiming at many of the children of the yuppies."
Advertisers and publishers have realized that parents who work and spend less time with their kids -- what Husni calls "the guilty generation" -- are loading their children down with money and gifts. Many of the new magazines are spinoffs of movies, TV and toys. There's Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, Barbie, Alf and other publications. Such magazines are not necessarily forever -- He-Man and She-Ra magazine has already died. So when there's another pre-adolescent trend, expect a magazine to follow.
Publishers are also appealing to parents with magazines like Sports Illustrated for Kids, Racing for Kids and Ladybug, more serious publications with at least the promised purpose of improving the free time and/or imagination of children. Since children will probably manage to find Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles magazine themselves, the following are some that are less likely to drive parents mad.
SI for Kids Launched in January 1989, SI for Kids is a slick and energetic miniature version of Sports Illustrated. Doubtless the hope is that little SI readers will grow into big SI readers. Time Inc. says the magazine is for children 8 and up and promises that 85 percent of the readers save every issue. That enthusiastic fact is typical of the publication, which is endlessly peppy, much in the manner of a gym teacher. Given that most of the potential readers probably love gym, the tone seems right.
The August issue features a story by a 14-year-old who was the first girl in Poughkeepsie, N.Y., to play Little League baseball, a day-in-the-life of Chicago Cubs shortstop Shawon Dunston and a piece on IronKids triathlons, which is enough to intimidate any adult out of ever venturing onto the playing field again.
Each monthly issue also profiles young athletes and asks a class of kids to opine on controversial sports issues such as "Should baseball players charge money for their autographs?" and "Should a 13-year-old be allowed to play professional sports?" There is a monthly poster and a page of sports cards, modified baseball cards that cover a number of sports and succumb to the Urge to Educate. (Monica Seles is from Yugoslavia, so what's the capital of Yugoslavia? ... Time's up. Belgrade.)
One year -- $17.95. Write to Sports Illustrated for Kids, P.O. Box 830609, Birmingham, Ala. 35283-0609.
A Magazine for Toddlers Ladybug's premiere issue will not be out until September, but ads have been appearing in such suitably tasteful locations as the New Yorker, the magazine to which Ladybug's mother publication, Cricket, has long been compared. A monthly intended for toddlers, preschoolers and beginning readers, Ladybug features simple stories, games and poems in very large type.
Like Cricket, which describes itself as the only literary magazine for children, Ladybug has attracted well-known authors and illustrators of children's books to contribute (Helen Oxenbury, known for her simple picture books, has created Leo and Popi, the continuing tale of a small boy and his toy monkey). The art throughout is lovely, and the heavy paper the magazine is printed on suggests that a certain amount of food could be splattered across the pages without irreversible damage. Given the appallingly high price of children's books, Ladybug will seem a bargain for many parents and gift-givers.
Cricket itself published a 200th issue last month and continues strong. Neither it nor Ladybug accepts advertising, and to look at the magazines you would believe all children live in a world untouched by television or any shadow of a Ninja Turtle. Many of the stories are folk tales or translated from foreign languages, the covers are elegant enough to frame, and the small cricket and other animals that migrate through the pages defining words like "rambunctious" continue to be exceptionally witty.
These are the magazines that literate parents wish their children would read. Gentle, sincere, classy, they are almost too perfect -- the educational television of kids' magazines. But they manage to avoid sanctimony (something that plagues other serious-minded magazines), and many children will love them.
For 12 issues of Ladybug send $24.97 to Ladybug, Box 58342, Boulder, Colo., 80322-8342. For 12 issues of Cricket send $29.97 to Cricket, Box 51144, Boulder, Colo., 80322-2961.
Young Consumers Yes, it sounds awful, but it's not -- the magazine for kids published by Consumer Reports is fun. Where else can your child discover which bubble gum gives longer flavor, greater "ease of chew" and admirable bubble blowability? (Bubble Yum won the thumbs up from a panel of 31 seventh graders.) And what with all their new-found wealth, kids could probably use some guidance. The newly renamed Zillions, formerly Penny Power, premieres this month.
In the August-September issue there are advice columns on such thorny subjects as popularity, a discussion of the insidious use of hidden advertisements in movies and a negative review of the much-hyped The Pump, Reebok's newest $170 sneakers. Most of the articles are written with a pleasant goofiness (in a test of how high the pricey sneaker let them jump, kids measure their soar by pressing chocolate-covered fingers on the wall).
Of course, it's probably a hopeless battle. Much of the energy of childhood is involved in doing dumb stuff -- buying the wrong thing, wanting to be incredibly popular, eating your way through the universe of chocolate ice cream bars rather than listening to advice on which is best. But for the sophisticated kid who would enjoy outsmarting television commercials, or for parents who hope some of it might sink in, Zillions has much to be recommended.
For a one-year subscription of six issues, send $13.95 to Zillions, P.O. Box 54861, Boulder, Colo., 80322-4861.
Charles Trueheart is on vacation.