- The Washington Times - Tuesday, June 13, 2006

Flipping through the colorful pages, there seems to be nothing unique about this particular copy of the popular children’s magazine Highlights: the same classic features, such as “Goofus and Gallant” and “Hidden Pictures” identify the publication.

Yet this glossy-covered copy will roll off the printing press today — the 1 billionth copy — and like the millions before it, will undoubtedly be picked up by a child waiting at a doctor’s office or perusing the pages at home.

Not many 60-year-olds can still boast such enduring popularity with children.

The features that make up Highlights possess what magazine editor Chris Clark calls “staying power.” Although the packaging and presentation of the magazine have changed to keep up with technological advances since its debut in June 1946, the monthly features continue to delight and educate children.

Based on the company’s philosophy that “children are the world’s most important people,” Highlights strives to provide material that is “fun, educational and inspirational,” Ms. Clark said. She says she finds joy in dealing with the “warm, fuzzy part of our culture” and in relating to children and serving them.

Perhaps that is why Kristy Sturm, librarian at Prairie Elementary in Lafayette, La., keeps Highlights in stock for the children to check out. She said the teachers use the “Hidden Pictures” page to teach children perseverance.

“When they’re hunting for the pictures, we say, ‘Have you given up?’ and they say, ‘No,’” she said. “[Thus] when they’re looking for an answer, they don’t give up.”

Mrs. Sturm said this practice helps to prepare the first- and second-graders for taking their standardized tests.

Beyond such educational value, Highlights provides entertainment, as Mrs. Sturm’s 10-year-old daughter, Breanne, recalls reading comics such as “The Timbertoes.”

Receiving 30,000 pieces of mail annually, Highlights staffers respond to each child’s letter. Ms. Clark said when the other employees are “out in the big room whooping it up, I know they’re reading a [submitted] joke or riddle.”

Some letters, however, reveal the workings of the curious minds of children as they mentally wrestle with such concerns as living with diabetes, why computers malfunction or — as in the case of 10-year-old reader Stephanie — how to fix a lie once told.

Perhaps it is Highlights’ commitment to providing an interactive source of information and entertainment that has kept the family-operated business continuing for six decades.

As a way to celebrate the 60-year milestone, Highlights has asked children to submit their ideas of what the magazine cover might look like 60 years from now. Ms. Clark said one submission featured an entire robotic family, including the mechanical family dog.

Arkansas resident Cheryl Trimarchi, who is in the District visiting her daughter and two grandsons, can’t remember if she recalls Highlights magazine from her own childhood or if it’s the memory of reading it to her children. Either way, the magazine was there, waiting for children at the doctor’s and dentist’s offices.

“[Highlights] has a very big presence in professional waiting rooms,” Ms. Clark said. Thus, the magazine has gained “exposure and has helped us serve kids and families,” she said. Ms. Clark added, though, that she doesn’t think anyone “associates us with pain.”

Ms. Trimarchi, who is a big advocate for encouraging children “to read anything,” mentioned the benefit of Highlights magazine in helping children learn their first words.

“It’s a magazine for their age,” Ms. Trimarchi said.

Ms. Trimarchi said she expects her grandson, who is at the stage of recognizing words and learning to combine the “i” sound with the “n” to form the word “in,” will benefit from the magazine.

Highlights hasn’t changed much from when Ms. Trimarchi’s children read it years ago. Although the cover design has been revamped and a couple of new features such as “Ask Arizona” and “Gallant Kids” have been introduced to the magazine, Ms. Clark said the mission of Highlights hasn’t changed.

With today’s “increasingly visual society,” Ms. Clark referred to Highlights Kids, an online Web site that she said “enhances the magazine experience.” Like the magazine, the Highlights Web site is free of advertisements. Since children are spending an increasing amount of time surfing the Net, Highlights Kids offers children a safe Web site, where the online games “require kids to do more thinking than the arcade games,” she said.

While the online site seeks to keep the Internet-immersed generation happy, Highlights magazine has remained remarkably consistent to its original content and purpose. After 60 years, the feature “Hidden Pictures,” in which small objects are hidden in a full-page drawing, remains the most sought-after part of Highlights.

To celebrate the magazine’s anniversary and mark the milestone of the 1 billionth copy, the August issue of Highlights — which rolls off the press today — will feature a two-page spread of “Hidden Pictures” with 37 objects waiting to be discovered by children across America.

“‘Hidden Pictures’ was in the very first issue and is still going strong,” Ms. Clark said. “The appetite for ‘Hidden Pictures’ is insatiable — we’ve had to keep up.”

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