A Note from Hope Katz Gibbs, publisher, Inkandescent Women magazine — Happy 75th anniversary to Highlights for Children, the wonderfully engaging magazine you likely read as a kid and probably have shared with your own children and grandchildren!
This month, we had the privilege of interviewing Christine Cully, Editor-in-Chief and Chief Purpose Officer of Highlights, who talked with us about the history of the publication that has touched millions of children. Please scroll down to read our Q&A, and be sure to listen to our podcast interview on InkandescentRadio.com and watch it on Inkandescent.tv.
Inkandescent: Chris, start by telling us about the history of Highlights for Children.
Christine Cully: Highlights magazine was founded in Honesdale, Pennsylvania, by two lifelong educators — Dr. Garry Cleveland Myers and his wife, Caroline Clark Myers. The husband-wife team had great respect for children and knew from decades of experience as teachers that kids learn best when engaged and having fun. The Meyers also believed that children would be more likely to grow up to be thoughtful, literate citizens who are sensitive to the needs and ideas of others if they were exposed to positive suggestions and good role models.
They knew that loving, positive human relationships are the most potent motivator for kids.
That belief grew from Garry’s experience as a psychologist. He earned a Ph.D. in psychology from Columbia University before World War I, then he and Caroline taught illiterate soldiers for the US Army. In fact, she was the first female teacher employed by the Army. This experience led to their becoming pioneers in education, teaching educators and parents at Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland, Ohio. Garry then began writing a nationally syndicated column entitled Parent Problems, and the couple co-authored several books.
They had become nationally known in education circles and wanted to share their knowledge more broadly, so they began to work for an early children’s magazine called Children’s Illustrated Activities. Lecturing across the nation, they informed, discovered, and refined what they knew. Their travels also led to discussions on what would be appropriate for children. In 1946, at ages when people typically retired, they decided to launch Highlights.
Inkandescent: What are the philosophy of the magazine and editorial approach?
Christine: Obviously, the world has changed greatly since our beginning, as has the company. But we have a set of guiding editorial principles rooted in the founder’s ideas and philosophy. After all, the way kids grow and learn hasn’t changed all that much, and we take a kid-centric approach to everything we do.
The development of every new product or initiative begins with the editorial team asking ourselves two questions:
- Will this be good for kids and families?
- How will this help kids become more curious, creative, caring, and confident? We call those the 4 C’s, and they reflect our efforts to focus on the whole child.
Inkandescent: The editorial team at Highlights magazine is clearly interested in kids’ cognitive development — their ability to think and acquire basic skills and knowledge, to learn to love to read and learn and do well in school. How does that play out in the articles you publish?
Christine: This plays out in our efforts to teach kids to learn to love to read. You see our efforts to teach kids thinking skills in all the many kinds of puzzles we develop and publish. Because we want kids to do well not only in school but also in life, we are very interested in their social-emotional development. We have a set of core beliefs that are embedded in everything we write. This translates to publishing stories that encourage kids to be kind and empathetic and understand that all people deserve dignity and respect.
We also want them to learn to be optimistic, which means seeing the good in oneself, others, and the world. We try in our content to show kids the importance of working hard and doing your best — to show yourself and others that they can do great things. But we also want them to know that it’s OK to make mistakes because that’s how we learn.
We also take an editorial approach that helps kids develop a sense of humor and fun. We want them to be curious and try new things. We want them to ask questions, and we urge adults to lean in and listen. When we do that, kids believe that what they think and do matter, and they develop a sense of belonging and self-confidence. And they can grow up to become people who will change the world for the better. In short, we aspire to help kids continuously try to be the best versions of themselves now and in the future as independent, successful adults.
Inkandescent: What are some of the most popular stories that you publish?
Christine: Highlight’s magazine has a few legacy features that have been popular with readers for generations. These include Goofus and Gallant — two boys (or, more likely, two sides of the same boy) who model two different approaches to life. Goofus often makes decisions that result in less than desirable outcomes. Gallant, while certainly not perfect, usually behaves in a way that results in better outcomes. These characters are often spoofed in pop culture—and sometimes used to call attention to super bad behavior. But we like to say there’s a little Goofus and Gallant in us all. And it’s remarkable that these characters—who started as elves back in our earliest beginnings and morphed into real kids– have been updated regularly over the years and remain relevant to kids today. Our current crop of readers loves them as much as their parents and grandparents did.
Another popular feature, of course, is our Hidden Pictures puzzle. There has been one in every Highlights issue since the first magazine was published in June 1946. It, too, has evolved over the years. The original, classic Hidden Pictures puzzle is black and white — and most difficult to solve. Today, we also publish them in color. We have photo Hidden Pictures. We have reverse-out Hidden Pictures and countless other varieties. Kids and grown-ups alike seem to have an almost insatiable appetite for Hidden Pictures. They’re fun. And they help kids develop important skills such as figure-ground perception and attention to detail.
Inkandescent: How have the articles, topics, focus, and voice of the magazine changed over the decades?
Christine: We are still a general-interest magazine and offer a mix of fiction, nonfiction, puzzles, crafts, recipes, and jokes. We make sure that we introduce kids to many different subjects over the course of a year’s subscription, from arts and science to history and sports. These articles are educational in nature, rigorously fact-checked, and written especially for kids.
We have made a few changes to stay current for our readers.
The stories and articles tend to be shorter than they were earlier in our history, in part to make room for colorful graphics. We recognize that we are all more visual people than we once were. Sometimes people who haven’t seen Highlights in a decade pick up and say, “Whoa! It looks so different. It’s so colorful!” And, of course, it is. The whole world is more colorful! As the world evolves and tastes change, so does our design. It’s a big part of what makes the magazine attractive and relevant to kids.
Another change is how much more kid-created content we publish. We like to say that we were interactive before digital media claimed that word because kids have written to Highlights and sent us their creative work since our very beginning. We get thousands of pieces of mail from kids annually—stories, poems, drawings, and letters, and we respond to every piece of mail we receive. In this way, we encourage kids to express themselves creatively, and getting published and seeing the creative work of others is very motivating for kids.
Inkandescent: What is the forecast for the future of Highlights magazine?
Christine: The forecast is sunny! We are excited for our next 75 years. Our mission is to help kids become their best selves, curious, creative, caring, and confident—by publishing content and creating experiences that engage, delight, and foster joyful learning. This is a mission that will be as important relevant at our 150th anniversary as it is today.
We’ll continue to expand our product portfolio with new products delivered on whatever new platforms become available to kids and families. We don’t see print publications for kids going away any time soon. In fact, we are evangelists for print. But we’ll make our good Fun with a Purpose content available wherever, and however, parents and kids want it—the best we can. And, we will continue to find new ways to partner with parents and grandparents to support and inspire them in raising their kids to be good humans.
Inkandescent: How is a book publishing a natural extension of what you do?
Christine: Because our flagship magazine, Highlights, has been around so long, serving a generation of children in impressive numbers both in homes and in reception rooms around the country — that’s the product that most people think of when they think of Highlights. And we are really proud of that. But we think of ourselves less like a magazine publisher and more of a media company with a philosophy. The magazine has been a great way to share our philosophy and expose kids to content that helps them grow, but other vehicles can also do that. . And book publishing is one. So is digital content—apps and web content. We think of ourselves as experience makers.
Inkandescent: What are the mission and goals of the 15 Minutes a Day series?
Christine: Studies show that 15 minutes of focused attention to a project or problem can reap the real benefit. Think of it as a burst of focus to help students be highly productive. So we created a new product — 15 Minutes A Day to School Success wedge boxes — exclusively for Costco.
Educators have vetted our content to align with what kids are being taught in school. We believe that skill practice + puzzles + humor = school success. Kids enjoy playing these games, and our research shows they stay focused longer and learn more.
There are three versions of this product — for preschool, kindergarten, and first graders, and each box contains 10 fun workbooks, a write-on/wipe-off practice board, a poster for a child to track his or her progress, and a parent guide that helps parents understand what skills are covered in each book. This program works especially well for busy families on the go.
Parents can pick them up at any Costco store or Costco.com.
Inkandescent: How can parents engage kids with these stories to get them to love reading and learning?
Christine: Here are a few of my favorite tips as a children’s magazine publisher and a Mom.
- Read aloud to children, even if only for 15 minutes a day. It is hugely important in helping kids develop a love of reading. Maybe for your family, that works best at bedtime. Maybe there’s another time that works for you. It’s important to do it and do it daily if you can.
- If your child is reading independently, let them read to you. You might encourage them to practice reading to their stuffed animals or family pet.
- Make sure books and magazines are readily accessible to them. Have them in your home. In the kids’ bedrooms. Take them on road trips.
- As much as possible, give your kids choice in what they read. And try not to assign reading like homework or a chore.
- Show an interest in what your kids are reading. Part of the fun of reading is talking about what you’re reading.
- And of course, one of the best ways to help kids develop a love of reading and learning is to allow them to see you reading for entertainment.