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Cousins to Books on Tape, 'Audiomagazines' Engage Children

Cassettes for kids aim to entertain and educate

EVERYONE is in favor of encouraging young people to read, and children's magazines have long been a way to do just that. Now, however, "audiomagazines" are being produced for children on cassette tape.

Is this another threat to the ailing reading habit? Not at all, argues Samir Husni, head of the magazine program at the University of Mississippi in Oxford.

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"Anything that gets children's attention and forces them to get more information will lead them toward reading," Mr. Husni says. "Audiomagazines are really taken from the idea of books on tape. They call it a magazine because it has a variety of content."

"This is certainly not discouraging reading," agrees Diana Huss Green, editor-in-chief of Parents' Choice, a review of children's media based in Waban, Mass. "The generation that was raised on radio certainly responded to reading."

Audiomagazines are wonderful for entertaining young people during long car trips or plane trips, Ms. Green says.

A magazine on tape is an altogether different experience from a print magazine, Green says. But that can be positive: "In these days, hearing is worth a thousand words," she says. "If you train your ears to listen, you can get an entirely different message, and it's very important that children learn to listen."

The two audiomagazines now being produced for children have split the market between preschoolers and the preteen set.

Shoofly, for ages 3 to 7, delivers audiocassettes to subscribers on a quarterly basis ($29.95 yearly). Billed as a literary magazine on tape, Shoofly offers poetry, stories, songs, and rhymes.

The tapes range from 45 to 60 minutes and introduce such characters as "I Want" and "Buy Me," two sisters whose frequent whining for toys and other possessions has caused everyone to forget their real names.

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Boomerang is a monthly subscription audiomagazine ($43.95 yearly) aimed at 6-to-12-year-olds. A group of young reporters records most of the features on each 70-minute cassette. Subtitled "A Children's Audiomagazine About Big Ideas," Boomerang includes regular segments on money, historical figures, and current events.

One recent edition offered a primer on the Bosnian War, an imagined "interview" with artist Georgia O'Keefe, and an actual interview with 13-year-old Zlata Filipovic, whose diary of life in Bosnia was recently published.

Each Boomerang cassette includes a seven-fold color insert with facts found on the tape and recommendations for books providing more information on the topics covered.

The venerated magazine Highlights for Children, which celebrates its 50th anniversary this year and prides itself on changing little since its debut, experimented with the idea of an audio version several years ago but did not pursue it.

Highlights, however, is producing an on-line version and CD-ROM to complement its print magazine. The magazine expects to be on America Online in April, says Highlights projects editor Christine Clark.

Several children's magazines have moved into the electronic arena. National Geographic World, Disney Adventures, and Time for Kids are available in America Online's "Kids Only" area.

A CD-ROM with Highlights' most popular features is expected by June. The CD-ROM is not intended as a monthly alternative to the magazine, though. "The production costs are just too astronomical," Ms. Clark says. (Club KidSoft, the one children's magazine that published regularly on CD-ROM, issued its last issue this fall. It still maintains an on-line version.)

Highlights editor Kent Brown Jr., grandson of the magazine's founders, is moving cautiously toward the new technology, wanting to use it only in a way that enhances his product. "We're thinking of this as an opportunity to learn and stay current without giving up our commitment to the magazine, which so far is the most efficient way we have of delivering to a large audience," he says. "I don't think there's any point to just reading a story on the computer. To date, it's more difficult rather than easier, and people like things that are easier."

*Shoofly, P.O. Box 70, Carrboro, NC 27510, tel.: 800-919-9989; Boomerang, Listen & Learn Home Education, Inc., P.O. Box 261, La Honda, Calif. 94020, tel.: 800-333-7858.

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