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Newsday  (
Jan. 10, 2007

Redesign With Kids In Mind
Playful new look for an old friend

By Daniel Bubbeo

For 104 years, the Weekly Reader has been as much a part of the early elementary-school experience as blackboards and chalk. But just as No. 2 pencils eventually need sharpening, Weekly Reader Corp., publishers of Dick and Jane’s favorite magazine, knew that the publication needed a spiffier look. So starting this month, the Weekly Reader will arrive on desks in a redesigned packaged tailored for 21st century classrooms.

“Kids today are living in a very dynamic, graphic world. They read books less, which I find very sad, so we are competing with many more things for kids’ eyeballs. There’s an explosion of media available, and much of it is very dynamic; whereas, print is still print. So we wanted to make the magazine reflect the visual world kids live in,” says Ira Wolfman, senior vice president for editorial for the Weekly Reader.

The latest issue, which could easily be called “January of the Penguins,” defines the revamped look. Gone from the cover are notes to teachers. The magazine’s logo is bigger and bolder, and the photo of an adult emperor penguin and its baby with the inviting blurb (“We are emperor penguins. We are birds but we cannot fly. Find out what we can do!”) embodies Wolfman’s mantra to make the cover more playful.

Inside, borders that used to decorate the top and bottom of each page are gone, and there’s more emphasis on having art and text play off each other, Wolfman says. The penguin story, for example, features a centerspread of our chilly chums with arrows pointing to their body parts and word bubbles with crisp descriptions on how each part works. “We wanted to layer more learning into the issue,” Wolfman says. “We want to make it educationally rich and more approachable than a strict narrative.”



Caption: That venerable classroom companion, the Weekly Reader, is changing its style to keep up with today’s kids who have a lot more things competing for their eyeballs’ attention. The old look is left; the new, right.


Of course, the Weekly Reader had a little help with all the fine-tuning. Alexander Isley Inc., a Redding, Conn.-based design consultancy, was instrumental in giving the magazine a less-cluttered look. But the greatest resource, Wolfman says, is the kids themselves, thousands of first- through third-graders who made up research panels that provided invaluable feedback on what they wanted to see.

Their findings sent publishers back to the drawing board for a new approach to the Weekly Reader’s annual story on Martin Luther King Day, which is Monday. “Rather than run the usual photos of King making a speech, which most kids of that age can’t relate to, we gave kids a bunch of black and white outlines of Martin Luther King, and had them color him in,” Wolfman says. “And this opens up a different way of talking about who King is. It’s a way to communicate but with a little more inventiveness.”

© 2007 Newsday Inc.

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