MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:
In the ever-changing world of children's entertainment, Highlights magazine has stayed a constant. You might have grown up reading it. Your grandparents might have grown up reading it. Your kids might be reading it right now. Ohio Public Radio's Andy Chow looks at the key to the magazine's success, a formula that mixes fun with learning.
ANDY CHOW, BYLINE: It's reading time for Emily Burkhalter's third grade class at Evening Street Elementary School in Worthington.
CHOW: When it comes time to picking something to read, Highlights Magazine is a popular choice.
UNIDENTIFIED STUDENT #1: I like how it has, like, articles. And it has, like, little word searches.
UNIDENTIFIED STUDENT #2: I like Goofus and Gallant.
UNIDENTIFIED STUDENT #3: I learned about the sea slug.
CHOW: Yep, the same magazine that was a mainstay in waiting rooms starting in the '50s is still going strong today. Its headquarters is in Columbus, Ohio. Editor-in-chief Christine French Cully says part of its popularity comes from recurring games and stories.
CHRISTINE FRENCH CULLY: They're non-negotiable. They're in each issue. So for example, we always have a hidden picture in every issue of Highlights. In fact, there's been a hidden picture in every issue of Highlights since June 1946.
CHOW: The popular visual puzzle that challenges kids to find small pictures inside a larger scene has been in the magazine for nearly 75 years. Since 1948, kids have been enjoying the parables of Goofus and Gallant, with Goofus modeling bad behavior and Gallant modeling good.
FRENCH CULLY: Part of its appeal to young children is its lack of ambiguity. It's a little black-and-white. It's practice for the big, harder moral decisions that are going to come later (laughter).
CHOW: Highlights CEO Kent Johnson's great-grandparents started the company shortly after World War II. He says Highlights, through games and stories, taps into the universal issues kids have always faced.
KENT JOHNSON: I think adults believe that everything's changed for kids. You know, we've got devices, and it's busy and all of these things. But what we know is kids still have some of the same issues they've had since 1946. How do I get along with my siblings? What happens when I have a falling out with my best friend? Those things are universal. Those things aren't changing.
CHOW: Ellen Barrett is a family development specialist with the group Family Connections in the Cleveland area. She says kids face all sorts of fast-paced entertainment with video games and movies, but Highlights found a way to slow things down and still capture kids' attention with short articles and puzzles.
ELLEN BARRETT: Being able to do something, come back to it, see where you left off and where your work was and then pick up where you left off, I think is a really important part of how Highlights magazine can help with brain development.
CHOW: Highlights is looking to maintain that vibe while evolving. It even has a podcast. Highlights' Kerstin Reinhart is product testing a mobile app that matches shapes to make an animal. For example, a heart and a triangle make a fish.
KERSTIN REINHART: Not only are they learning, but there's an interactive element to add the surprise and delight.
CHOW: Back in Emily Burkhalter's class, students are on a mission to discover more hidden pictures.
UNIDENTIFIED STUDENT #4: I think it might be the paper airplane.
CHOW: Now, Goofus might think this is boring, but Gallant might see it as a fun way to work as a team.
For NPR News, I'm Andy Chow in Columbus.
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