Children’s magazines: getting past the ‘buy one magazine, get five tacky, two-minute wonder toys for free’ to something educational and beautiful

A sea of cellophane, pink and plastic, tacky toys

Go with your children to any supermarket or a branch of a well-known newsagent/bookseller chain and you will find it very difficult to make it past the children’s magazines section.   The magazines are strategically placed at kiddy eye level and are adorned with garish,  brightly-coloured plastic toys all neatly packed in a sea of cellophane.  ‘Buy one magazine, get five tacky, 2-minute wonder toys for free’ they scream at you.   Kids love them, (most) parents HATE them.

I have made it my mission to seek out good quality, educational magazines that DON’T have a rubbish toy stuck to the front, are beautiful to look at and I would be happy for my children to read.   The magazines featured below can all be acquired by subscription, usually at a reduced rate.   There is something really magical when children get their own post – a parcel delivered by the postman just for them, with their name on it.

Here are my findings.   (Just so you know, the following magazines were all purchased by me, they were not freebies.)   All of the magazines discussed are available through subscription, the last one can also be bought at most supermarkets and newsagents.

Anorak ‘The Happy Mag for Kids’   is aimed at boys and girls aged between six and twelve years and is published four times a year.   It is visually stunning, more like a book than a magazine, and bound in heavy-duty paper with a matt finish.   My nine year old daughter, upon opening the parcel it arrived in, squealed with delight and it was some time before I was able to wrestle it off her to take a look myself.    Each edition is based around a theme (the current issue, no. 22, is all about food, see below).  It opens with ‘good stuff’ and ‘read stuff’ (I particularly like this section as it is a book review section for children by children).   Then there are highly imaginative comic strip stories using photographs (Munkie and Horrace) and colourful, fun illustrations (The gumball).  Further on you get to go inside the Anorak Food Store to discover good foods, not-so-good foods, what our ancesters ate, foods we love to hate, illustrators’ ideas of their most perfect, imaginary packed lunches(yummy and definitely not-so-yummy) and how to make a scale model of the solar system using food.  My children and I are particularly looking forward to making our very own street scene of Paris.  Mais oui!    What really stands out, though, are the stunning contemporary illustrations used throughout – they are colourful and stimulating and will clearly resonate with children, tapping into their vast imaginations.   I don’t think they will be lost on adults either.

Extract from Munkie and Horrace

Extract from The gumball

Good Food is Good

They Ate What?

Make your own Paris!

Make your own Paris!

DiscoveryBox by Bayard Magazines  Recommended for children aged between 9 and 12 years (although, of course, this depends on an individual child’s reading ability and understanding).  Published ten times a year.   My nine year old daughter has been subscribing to this magazine for a year or so now and really looks forward to each edition.   I actually think this magazine is particularly suited to boys as it treats a range of subject areas – nature, history, science, the world, sports – in a variety of different writing styles.  There are no long, extended pieces of text.  Instead, information is presented in short texts, broken up with illustrations, fact boxes and informative captions.   Each edition does include one ‘longer’ narrative text which treats a non-fiction subject as a linear story to provide children with a long chunk of text to read – great for building up reading stamina.  At the end of the magazine there is a fantastic Do It Yourself activities section which compliments the topics covered in the main body of the magazine.  So, for example, in the Japan issue (see thumbnail), there are instructions for preparing a Japanese lunch, ideas for painting a self-portrait in the style of Van Gogh (the narrative lifestory included earlier, The true story of Vincent Van Gogh, one of the most famous painters in the world) and some experiments observing the behaviour of snow inside your fridge (complimenting the picture story Mission to the South pole).   Every edition also includes a pull-out poster (with extra information on the back), comic strips and fun collectible info-cards.  We have found that this magazine has provided us with excellent ideas for homework projects, particularly in terms of looking at how to present information in different styles.

Nihon-E Yokojo! (Welcome to Japan!)

Japanese traditions

Quick look! Digestion, an amazing process!

Extract from: The true story of Vincent Van Gogh, one of the most famous painters in the world

Extract from: The true story of Vincent Van Gogh, one of the most famous painters in the world

Do It Yourself activities section: Prepare a Japanese lunch

AdventureBox by Bayard Magazines    Recommended for children aged 6 to 9 years and published ten times a year.   This magazine from Bayard is essentially designed to get children hooked on reading and it does this by including a story, split into manageable chapters, with full-colour pictures on every page.  This way children can have a really good go at being independent readers which is great for confidence and building up reading stamina.  I particularly like the fact that the editors at Bayard have not shied away from stories covering tricky subject areas.   In the issue featured here, the story covers, from a child’s perspective, the delicate subject of parents and divorce but it does so sensitively and with humour.   As Anthony Browne has said “Children are more than capable of coping with all kinds of stories..”  Also featured in every issue is a NatureBox section which includes photographs and scientific information about a creature or topic from nature; puzzles and games which are intended to stimulate children’s literacy and reasoning skills; Tom and Lili comic strip and Ariol comic strip.

Extract from Pirate parents fall out

Extract fom Pirate parents fall out

Extract from Fleas! (NatureBox section)

Extract from Fleas! (NatureBox section)

Extract from Deep Sea games pages

Extract from Ariol, regular comic strip

StoryBox from Bayard Magazines   Designed for children aged between 3 and 6 years and published ten times a year.   My youngest daughter has been subscribing to this magazine for a couple of years now and in that time she has progressed from enjoying the sharing of the stories contained within to loving the fact that she can read them on her own and even read them back to me!   (In fact, she is now ready to move to AdventureBox.)   Open StoryBox and you begin with a delightful book-length story to read aloud.   Reading books aloud and sharing stories is so important, right from the word go – enter into new worlds and share the new words that go with them.  Take time to talk about the pictures too.  And in StoryBox the illustrations are always delightful.  Also featured is SamSam, ‘the smallest of the big heroes’ comic strip; Animal world – lovely illustrations and simple text about a new animal each month; and Wonder with Whizkid which introduces children to science and answers their questions about the world around them such as ‘Why don’t we see colours at night?’  One of the loveliest sections in AdventureBox is ‘Polo – an adventure without words to lead you into the world of dreams…’   Each month Polo goes on a new adventure.   What is so special is that there are no words to accompany the illustrations.   Instead, you and your child are able to look at the pictures and put your own narrative to them.  You might even want to cut them out and swap the pictures around and create your very own version?  (Just a thought).

Extract from Little Black Cat is scared of the dark

Extract from Little Black Cat is scared of the dark

Extract from Little Black Cat is scared of the dark

Extract from Why do trees lose their leaves?

Time for a rhyme

Extract from Polo - an adventure without words

Extract from Polo - an adventure without words

Extract from Polo - an adventure without words

The Official Jacqueline Wilson Mag    OK.  I know.   This magazine comes in a cellophane wrapper with gifts attached.    However, if you can get past these, there is, in fact, a very good magazine to be found here.  And the gifts that you do get are related to the magazine – that is, they’re not pink (usually), they’re not tacky (usually) and they are (usually) really useful, for example, this month’s gifts (17 April 2012) were a ‘writers set’ of stationery, folder and a guide called How to be a…Super Story Writer!   Inside the magazine are lots of hints, tips and advice on story writing, for example, What Happens Next (the reader gets to write their own ending to a Jacqueline Wilson story) and My Writing Secrets.  And for the children who love to illustrate their stories, there is a section all about illustrating including tips from Nick Sharratt himself.

Extract from Set the Scene

Extract from Create a Cliffhanger

Tracy's Chat Cards


This entry was posted in Age 2-4, Age 4-6, Age 6-8, Age 8-10, Pre-teen, Wilson, Jacqueline and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

10 Responses to Children’s magazines: getting past the ‘buy one magazine, get five tacky, two-minute wonder toys for free’ to something educational and beautiful

  1. Zoe says:

    Yes Anorak is produced beautifully isn’t it! After reviewing several magazines for kids ( we took out a subscription to Discovery Box and Okido – M really does that think of running away excitedly when one drops through the letter box and rushing up to her comfy chair then reading it cover to cover when one arrives.

  2. Ann Wright says:

    Very helpful information about the magazines – thank you. It’s not easy to find the gems amongst the glitzy freebies.
    Have you tried ‘Aquila’? It’s a monthly subscription magazine that has a theme each issue aimed at 8-13yr olds. Each issue contained an information article, something to make, a story , puzzles and readers contributions. My children used to have to have this and enjoyed the variety.

    • Yvonne Keen says:

      Hi Ann, Yes I have heard of Aquila. I tried to get hold of a copy to review (I was prepared to pay) but a copy failed to materialise from the publishers. I couldn’t really wait any longer. I could perhaps do a follow up on them. Thanks again. Yvonne

      • Hi Yvonne
        I was very sad to hear that you had tried and failed to obtain a magazine from us. We will always send free samples on request. Please let me have your address details and we will send some review copies to you immediately.
        Kind regards
        Janet – AQUILA Children’s Magazine

  3. M says:

    I know of Anorak but Discovery Box also looks good. We’re still Kids National Geographic fans. Yes, you get the freebies and promos with it but there’s all sorts of easily digestible facts and fun – much easier on the eye than the adult version. Even I like it too. And you can subscribe with tesco vouchers.

  4. Amy Rhodes says:

    What a wonderful title for a post! I agree with you I really hate going down the magazine isle. My daughter is only two and is always attracted to the ones that are way too old for her. I have brought a few in the past such as in the night garden, Peppa pig and Mr Tumble but they get so expensive. I have now resolved to buying a book each month instead and it seems a happy solution. I am glad you have reviewed some magazines here though I will keep a note of these when she is older. Thank you

    • Yvonne Keen says:

      Thanks Amy. I’m planning a follow up piece which will include a couple more examples of good quality children’s magazines and comics. Best wishes, Yvonne at Babbleabout.

  5. Lucy says:

    Thank you-very helpful. My son is 3.5 yrs old and I am finding it hard to find good books (apart from Julia Donaldson) which seem age appropriate. I will give Storybox a go. Please keep updating it! Thank you

    • Yvonne Keen says:

      Absolute pleasure. Very happy to help anyone looking for decent reading material for their children as I, myself, have always found personal recommendations really useful when choosing books.

  6. Lucy says:

    Ps just found this on a random Internet search under magazines but see your main web is about great book titles -also what I need- thank you!

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