Magazine Parade

In the check-out line at Grand Union, I spied a mag­a­zine cov­er with kit­tens spilling out of a jack o’ lantern, the new issue of Jack and Jill. While my moth­er loaded gro­ceries from her cart onto the con­vey­or belt, a copy of the mag­a­zine rolled by as the very last item. My moth­er gave me a look. Her week­ly gro­cery bud­get didn’t include sur­pris­es. But she dug in her purse for an extra 35 cents. How could she refuse a nine-year-old who loved to read?

Jack and Jill

Like most true read­ers, I read any­thing in print, includ­ing Ladies Home Jour­nal. A mag­a­zine just for me was like find­ing fairy gold. Children’s mag­a­zines seem to fall into the cat­e­go­ry of ephemer­al mate­r­i­al, not worth exam­in­ing. A crit­i­cal paper has been writ­ten on the sub­ject, “His­tor­i­cal Overview of Children’s Mag­a­zines,” by Elaine R. Abadie. I reviewed her paper for back­ground infor­ma­tion, then root­ed in my own col­lec­tion of old children’s magazines.

Children’s peri­od­i­cals, Abadie states, reflect Amer­i­can his­to­ry and atti­tudes about youth. The Children’s Mag­a­zine, pub­lished in 1789, the year George Wash­ing­ton became pres­i­dent, was filled with moral lessons. In those days, chil­dren were meant to stay on the straight and narrow. 

St. Nicholas Illustrated Magazine for Boys and Girls

It wasn’t until 1873 when a new mag­a­zine for young peo­ple burst onto the pious scene. Edit­ed by Mary Mapes Dodge (author of Hans Brinker), St. Nicholas promised to deliv­er “the cheer of bird­song,” a place for chil­dren to play.  Con­trib­u­tors includ­ed Mark Twain, Louisa May Alcott, Rud­yard Kipling, and Frances Hodg­son Burnett.

The St. Nicholas League attract­ed sto­ries, poet­ry, and art sub­mit­ted by read­ers.  Win­ners earned badges and cash prizes. E.B. White, a win­ner him­self, wrote, “The fierce desire to write and paint that burns in our land today [is] direct­ly trace­able to St. Nicholas.” Oth­er notable win­ners include William Faulkn­er, Rachel Car­son, and F. Scott Fitzger­ald. The mag­a­zine end­ed its hero­ic run in 1943. Some say radio may have brought about a decline in readership. 

Many mag­a­zines were pub­lished to vary­ing degrees of suc­cess. Years ago, I paid a dol­lar for an April 1908 Children’s Mag­a­zine, edit­ed by Frances Hodg­son Bur­nett. A short-lived enter­prise, my copy con­tains ads to aid “frail ane­mic chil­dren” and “healthy shoes” to pre­vent pigeon-toes.

The Brownie’s Book (1920−1921) was a noble attempt to give Black chil­dren their own mag­a­zine, designed to pro­mote “Uni­ver­sal Love and Broth­er­hood.” Spon­sored by the NAACP and edit­ed by NAACP founder W.E.B. Du Bois, it was aimed at all chil­dren, but espe­cial­ly “for the chil­dren of the Sun.” Langston Hugh­es’ first poem was pub­lished in The Brownie’s Book.

Every Child’s Mag­a­zine blew in and out like the March wind, last­ing from 1921 to 1929. At 20 cents a copy, it was prici­er than most children’s peri­od­i­cals. My copy has a love­ly Art Deco cov­er in orange and blue, with the con­tent print­ed in blue. John Martin’s The Child’s Mag­a­zine, launched in 1912, boast­ed authors such as Wan­da Gag, John­ny Gru­elle, and Thorn­ton W. Burgess. The last issue was in 1933, killed by the Depression.

Child Life

As a col­lec­tor, I found myself drawn to Child Life from 1930 to 1940, main­ly for the strik­ing cov­ers by Illi­nois illus­tra­tor Hazel Frazee. The sol­id black back­grounds and strong con­trast­ing col­ors stand out from the usu­al pas­tel offer­ings. Because Hal­loween was my favorite hol­i­day as a kid, my col­lec­tion of vin­tage children’s mag­a­zines has many Octo­ber issues.

Children's Digest and Humpty Dumpty

Jack and Jill and Hump­ty Dump­ty were my favorites grow­ing up because they were avail­able in gro­cery stores. Jack and Jill hit the stands in 1938; Hump­ty Dump­ty in 1952. Hump­ty Dump­ty was pulpy, like its sis­ter pub­li­ca­tion Children’s Digest (1950), but Jack and Jill was a bet­ter size and the paper felt right. Jack and Jill, Hump­ty Dump­ty, Children’s Digest, and Child Life were bought by the Children’s Bet­ter Health Insti­tute in 1980 and focused on health, safe­ty, nutri­tion, and exer­cise. My favorite mag­a­zine was ruined. Just sayin’.

You can’t dis­cuss children’s mag­a­zines with­out men­tion­ing High­lights for Chil­dren, begun in 1946 and still going. As a kid, I didn’t like High­lights because of its preachy fea­ture, “Goo­fus and Gal­lant.” As an adult, I’m thrilled to know High­lights fea­tured a same sex fam­i­ly in the Feb­ru­ary 2017 issue. Boy’s Life, now Scout Life, has also kept up with the times.

Children's Play Mate and Cricket Magazine

In 1973, Crick­et mag­a­zine took up the flag dropped by St. Nicholas. Edi­tor Mar­i­anne Carus declared the new pub­li­ca­tion would be “The New York­er for chil­dren.” Art direc­tor Tri­na Schart Hyman set the bar high. My Octo­ber 1974 issue lists Bet­sy Byars, Bar­bara Sleigh, Mar­jorie Shar­mat, N.M. Bodeck­er, Ann Thwaite, and Erik Bleg­vad as con­trib­u­tors. It is going strong near­ly 50 years lat­er and has expand­ed its fam­i­ly to include Baby­bug, Lady­bug, Click, Ask, Spi­der, and Muse.

A mag­a­zine I dis­cov­ered only a few years ago is The Gold­en Mag­a­zine.  It flour­ished in the 1960s, then dis­ap­peared. It had the fla­vor of Gold­en Books since it used the same illustrators. 

I still love children’s mag­a­zines. My first pub­lished sto­ry (a two-parter!) was acquired by Jack and Jill and I felt I had come home. In our house, old children’s mag­a­zines are far from for­got­ten. Sev­er­al issues of Child Life are framed as art. A rotat­ing stack of vin­tage Jack and Jill mag­a­zines sit in an old child’s wag­on as a sort of cal­en­dar. At the begin­ning of each month, I pull out a cor­re­spond­ing issue and enjoy look­ing at the cov­er every time I walk past. I’m nine years old again, slip­ping the lat­est Jack and Jill at the end of my mother’s gro­cery order.

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Connie Van Hoven
1 year ago

Thank you for this delight­ful infor­ma­tion and caus­ing me to relive child­hood trips to the pediatrician’s office. The dog-eared copies of Jack and Jill made those vis­its almost enjoyable!

candice ransom
Reply to  Connie Van Hoven
1 year ago

I only remem­ber High­lights in the den­tist’s office and as a kid who read every­thing with print, it was hard not to leaf through it any­way. I did­n’t like the art (picky even at 8 and 9) and felt some of the sto­ries were too baby­ish (they cov­ered too wide an age range). But High­lights is still around and any chil­dren’s peri­od­i­cal that has stood the test of time, like Crick­et, deserves applause.

David LaRochelle
David LaRochelle
1 year ago

I loved this arti­cle, Can­dice! It brought back many fond mem­o­ries. When I was a child in the 60’s, I used to receive my neigh­bor’s sec­ond hand copies of Gold­en Mag­a­zine, which she received sec­ond hand from some­one else. I still remem­ber some of the sto­ries, and of course the jokes by Cracky, the mag­a­zine’s par­rot mascot. When I was about 10, I began receiv­ing my own sub­scrip­tion to Jack and Jill. What a thrill it was to get some­thing addressed to me in the mail! I remem­ber some of those sto­ries as well, and I bet I would rec­og­nize any cov­er from the time I was a sub­scriber. Like you, I would… Read more »

candice ransom
Reply to  David LaRochelle
1 year ago

Dave, I would have giv­en my eye-teeth for a sub­scrip­tion to Jack and Jill! Many in my col­lec­tion have mail­ing labels and I always think about the lucky kid who got that mag­a­zine each month. I sus­pect you remem­ber those cov­ers because it was rare to have a chil­dren’s mag­a­zine and you prob­a­bly read them over and over. The Gold­en Mag­a­zine, as I said, was a recent dis­cov­ery, but it’s such a classy pro­duc­tion, sort of an upscale Jack and Jill. I have read E.B. White’s essay about St. Nicholas. The roll call of St. Nicholas League prize win­ners is astonishing. I’m so glad you got your start in the… Read more »