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THE GOODS | CYBURBIA

Making a Gallant Effort at Updating a Classic

September 10, 1996|DAVID COLKER | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Long before home computers existed anywhere but in science fiction, "Highlights for Children" was entertaining the nation's kids with, as it said right on the cover, "Fun with a Purpose."

This was definitely analog entertainment, but it was also interactive. In addition to illustrated stories about the Timbertoes family and the moral lessons of "Goofus and Gallant," there were puzzles such as "Hidden Pictures." It was my favorite as a kid--I used to wile away hours in the waiting room of the town doctor, peering at drawings of brave knights or exploration in outer space to find hidden objects such as a pair of scissors, a bird or goblet.

"Highlights," now in its 50th year, has gone digital. The Creative Multimedia company recently released a CD-ROM version for Macintosh and Windows called, "Highlights Interactive." The disk includes many old favorites, such as "Hidden Pictures," the Timbertoes and "Goofus and Gallant."

It's a nicely done CD-ROM ($39.95), which avoids the temptations of MTV-style animation or the use of a wacky-but-cute "host" that is already a kids' CD-ROM cliche.

"Highlights Interactive" is much like visiting an old friend for whom time has stood still for decades. That's admirable, but only to a point. Ironically, while the current version of the print magazine retains some of its yesteryear ambience, it's also hipper and more vibrant than its CD-ROM offspring.

The puzzles are the best part of "Highlights Interactive." "Hidden Pictures" is presented in a straightforward fashion, and although the hidden objects are a bit harder to find on a computer screen than on a printed page, the trade-off is that some of the items do little animated dances when you find and click on them.

The "Goofus and Gallant" section is comforting in its sensibilities, though it would probably have seemed quaint even two decades ago. It features drawings of two nearly identical boys, one of whom is thoughtful, considerate and organized, and the other who is, well, a goofus.

On the CD-ROM, "Goofus and Gallant" becomes a game--kids are called upon to categorize various behaviors as Goofus- or Gallant-like.

What's missing from the disc are the magazine's feature articles, which are much more contemporary-minded than I remember from the Dr. Chuck days. One recent issue had a feature on the Dalai Lama, entitled, "Carry Kindness."

Perhaps the key to making "Highlights" truly vibrant for this generation is to put it onto the World Wide Web. Kids young enough for "Highlights" (the CD-ROM says it is for ages 5 and up) may not be able to type or successfully find a Web site, but with the help of parents, they could proudly post drawings they created or stories they wrote.

"Highlights" could be the hub of a Net community. It would be a nice place to visit, and afterward, you wouldn't have to get a shot.

* Cyburbia's e-mail address is david.colker@latimes.com.

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