SPOTLIGHT 

Spotlight – Pre-school magazines

Comics have come a long way from a pocket money treat. Now there are toys, posters, stickers and even a magazine thrown in. Alan Geere peruses the bottom shelf of the newsagents for the pre-school magazines.

By Alan Geere

CBEEBIES MAGAZINE

What’s it about: ‘Lots of fun for little learners’ – tagline on cover.

Vital statistics: 11-24 May 2016 issue: 44 pages of 297mm x 220mm. Quality matt paper, heavyweight gloss cover, stitched. £3.25 cover price. Combined ABC of 69,466. Published by Immediate in London.

Cover: Post Office Play Set (post box, stamp etc) in blister pack stuck to cover with Postman Pat peeping out on the magazine cover along with a large panel containing bar code, folio lines and a disclaimer (CHOKING HAZARD. Caution!) in very small type. Five coverlines and nineteen characters, human, puppet and animation.

Content: Two helpful sections for ‘Grown-ups’ on page three. Lots of drawing, stories, colouring, games, stickers and a pull-out poster all featuring familiar characters from the telly channel. One ad to adopt a snow leopard and another for Playmobil is the commercial presence.

Digital: An educated guess at cbeebiesmagazine.com takes you to Immediate’s corporate site, so no dedicated website. Trying hard on Twitter with regular posts, but only 8,500 followers seem scant reward. Doing better on Facebook with 18,000 likes.

What they say: “It’s a joy to create things which help young children learn and that’s exactly what I’ve done both as a teacher and now as an Editor of children’s magazines,” group editor Steph Cooper on her website.

Verdict: Wears its BBC educational remit very firmly on the sleeve, ably demonstrated by the eight-page Postman Pat workbook which is a playful learning experience. Post Office play set felt a bit old hat – rather like Post Offices – although the InPublishing Reader Panel of five and six year olds enjoyed taking it apart. Friendly, familiar faces all through and nearly 70,000 buyers every issue can’t be wrong.

DISNEY AND ME

What’s it about: ‘Turn the page to begin your Disney Pixar adventure’ – tagline on cover.

Vital statistics: 18 May-14 June 2016 issue: 36 pages of 278mm x 208mm. Gloss paper, card cover, stitched. £3.99 cover price. Combined ABC of 26,180. Published by Egmont in London.

Cover: Foam dart shooter mounted on cover in blister pack partially obscuring masthead. Nine coverlines and twelve characters, all animations. Cover pulls away to reveal Mouse Mayhem skittles game on the inside spread.

Content: No index and no page numbers but each feature neatly flagged with contents such as story, puzzles etc. The magazine is packed with “all your favourite Pixar and Disney animated characters” and with a Disney and Me logo on every page, there’s no missing who’s behind it.

Digital: A substantial digital presence from the wider world of Disney, as you might expect, but nothing specific for the magazine. One page on the Egmont website, plus an offer to download a ratecard, not an invitation that has seen much of a response judging by the ad content.

What they say: “One of these naughty cluckers has eaten all the corn!” – The Good Dinosaur introducing the first game on the welcome page.

Verdict: A big hit with fans of the Disney movies both old, like Toy Story, and new, such as Zootropolis. Not as instantly recognisable as some every day TV personalities but cool for film fans. Having a shooter – albeit with foam darts – as the cover gift might raise a few eyebrows in some households and our Reader Panel found it fiddly to operate. But there’s always a competition to take part in, even if you have to post your answer.

DOC MCSTUFFINS

What’s it about: ‘Fun and play on every page’ – tagline on cover.

Vital statistics: 5 May-1 June 2016 issue: 36 pages of 301mm x 219mm. Matt paper, card cover, stitched. £2.99 cover price. Combined ABC of 35,491. Published by Panini Magazines in Tunbridge Wells.

Cover: Medical play set (stethoscope included) mounted on over-sized cover in plastic bag. Four coverlines plus come-ons to ‘75 stickers inside’ and the play set that you can already see. Six animated characters including the eponymous Doc, who is ‘a little girl who cares about how her friends are feeling’.

Content: They love their stickers, which are stapled inside the centre spread. ‘Learn, stick, play’ is prompted regularly plus ‘Use your stickers to answer these questions’. The magazine delivers its promise of ‘stories, activities, learning and fun’ all prescribed by the good doctor and her friends. Back page given over to promos for next issue.

Digital: There’s a small promo to DisneyJunior.co.uk but no specific site for the magazine or any social media, although there are plenty of people called ‘Doc McStuffins’ on Twitter (parental guidance). You can enter a competition via email, but have to send in photos and drawings by post.

What they say: “I am always looking for ways to shine a light on people who don’t get to see themselves represented on TV. I think it’s one of the most powerful things we have, especially in preschool television.” – Doc McStuffins creator Chris Nee talking to MSNBC.

Verdict: Our reader panel loved the easy to use toys, with a definite bias towards the girls. They were not all familiar with the character but were easily able to pick up on the activities and stories. The joint cheapest of our Spotlight bunch, so great value.

PEPPA PIG – BAG O’ FUN

What’s it about: ‘Stick, Make, Colour, Draw’ – tagline on cover.

Vital statistics: No 77 issue (no date): 36 pages of 398mm x 220mm. Matt paper, heavyweight gloss cover, stitched. £4.99 cover price. Combined ABC of 70,653. Published by Redan in Shrewsbury.

Cover: ‘6 Peppa Gifts’ emblazoned across the top of a bag containing just that – everything you could need to mount a rescue, including fire extinguisher and walkie-talkie. No coverlines but the easily recognisable shape of Peppa and some of her entourage.

Content: Stickers right up front stapled before page three confirm this is another stickertastic magazine. Handy numbers on a splodge of paint on every page corner and every activity is also numbered, all the way to No 30. Bright colours and lots of words, maybe indicating this is for a slightly more advanced reader.

Digital: A bold invitation to visit Peppa’s website is rewarded with a bright, animated, well-voiced site. Viewing the antics online has helped garner 2.8 million Facebook likes and 30,000 Twitter followers.

What they say: “Allow your child to feel ‘in charge’ of the magazine,” advice for grown-ups on page two.

Verdict: Easy to access array of ‘gifts’ – rip open plastic bag! – left our panel a little underwhelmed. Some parts were small and fiddly and needed instant imagination to be of benefit. How much fun can you have with a two-inch high fire extinguisher. And at just a penny change from a fiver, a purchase you need to stop and think about.

THOMAS EXPRESS

What’s it about: ‘Thomas & Friends’ – in the masthead.

Vital statistics: 11 May-7 June 2016 issue: 40 pages of 278mm x 209mm. Gloss paper, self cover, stitched. £3.99 cover price. Combined ABC of 25,273. Published by Egmont in London.

Cover: Actual magazine obscured by poly bag that contains ‘five gifts’ including chalkboard and pen. Four coverlines on bag – one to teaser for 40-page magazine - plus pictures of Thomas and two friends. Six smiling engines on the magazine cover, plus the exhortation, “Join the Steam Team!”.

Content: Tracing, ‘Colour, cut and fold’ to make Thomas, eight-page colouring pull-out plus “collaging, puzzling and spotting” make this a busy book. And, true to its roots, there are stories involving all the old gang, plus some newer ones like Kevin and Cranky (a crane, since you ask).

Digital: Find the well signposted website Thomasandfriends.com and a link takes you to an old Twitter account (9k followers in March 2015). The current account (minus the UK from its previous incarnation) has 11.8k followers and a more internationalist approach with references to Memorial Day and links to Thomas seeing the Northern Lights in Alaska. An almost impossible to comprehend 1.25 million Facebook likes.

What they say: ‘Maybe their next one could be "Thomas and the Orient Express". I'd like to see what would happen when Thomas encounters a train like that.’ – comment on YouTube.

Verdict: Seventy years since Thomas first appeared in book form, he’s still going full steam ahead. He’s now the titular head of an international commercial brand and the magazine does all it can to help reinforce its popularity. Instantly recognised by the Panel who latched on to the distinctly old-tech colouring as their favourite activity.

SOMETHING SPECIAL

What’s it about: ‘Supports the Early Years and P Scales Curriculum’ – displayed on cover with big green tick.

Vital statistics: 11 May-7 June 2016 issue: 36 pages of 298mm x 222mm. Quality matt paper, heavyweight gloss cover, stitched. £2.99 cover price. Combined ABC of 43,309. Published by Immediate in London.

Cover: A ‘soft and bendy’ Mr Tumble toy mounted quite demurely in the corner of the cover leaving space for two pictures of the man himself, four coverlines, pictures of four animals, two BBC logos and that scary ‘Not suitable for children 0-3 symbol’ featuring an unhappy Tintin-like figure.

Content: Stories, lots of simple games, colouring and stickers on a helpfully perforated sheet in the centre. A big headline on each page signals clearly what’s going on. Ample use of Makaton, Mr Tumble’s own sign language, with diagrams of the keys words on every page. Just one ad, on the back page, for Night Garden Live, featuring more CBeebies regulars.

Digital: Social media flagged up in the magazine results in 6,600 Twitter followers – “This page is intended for Grown-ups” - and a measly 5,000 likes on Facebook. A link from Twitter to a bbc.co.uk web page doesn’t work although Something Special does have its own page. In other digital news, there’s a QR code to watch Mr T sing.

What they say: “We check what we print, and consult experts so you can trust what you read” – from editor’s seven-point ‘magazine promise’.

Verdict: If you’ve seen the TV show, you’ll love the mag. Positive, inclusive, engaging and instructional. Great value at £2.99, even if the cover-mounted toy was difficult, no, impossible, for little fingers to extricate from its packaging. And with more than 100 pictures of Mr Tumble, there’s no mistaking the star of the show.

Thank-you to the InPublishing Reader Panel from the reception class at Scremerston First School, Northumberland.