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All the News That's Fit ... for Kids

Weekly Reader, that iconic newspaper for youngsters, turns 100 this year.

January 13, 2002|BEVERLY BEYETTE | TIMES STAFF WRITER

When the classroom newspaper Weekly Reader conducted a year-end poll on its Web site, youngsters were asked to vote for the most important event of 2001. The winner, with 59% of the vote: the release of the first "Harry Potter" film. A distant second, with 25%: the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.

"Amazing, isn't it?" said Editor in Chief Charles Piddock from the paper's editorial offices in Stamford, Conn., a hint of amusement in his voice. "It shows how we're getting through with the important news, right?"

Admittedly, Harry Potter is a phenomenon. Still, after 25 years with the Weekly Reader, which in separate issues targets pre-kindergartners through sixth-graders, Piddock knows youngsters "are much more interested in their own world than they are in the world outside." His mission is to create interest in the wider world among the youngest readers and, with its newer offshoot, Teen Newsweek (published with Newsweek magazine), to middle school students.

Now, 100 years after it debuted in an earlier guise, the Weekly Reader has reached and shaped children who went on to help shape the world. To help celebrate its centennial, several famous names have responded to the Reader's request for testimonials on its impact on them as children.

Former President Carter said that he and wife Rosalyn "remember with pleasure" getting the newspaper at their school in Plains, Ga., and how it "kept us focused on timely issues and helped to shape our knowledge and attitude toward important aspects of life."

Former U.S. senator and astronaut John Glenn weighed in with "fond memories of Weekly Read- er," noting that when he was a boy in Concord, Ohio, it provided him with a "window to the world."

TV's Jane Pauley said, in fourth grade, reading the Weekly Reader was "the high point of the week."

An unsolicited testimonial came Weekly Reader's way in 1994, when Tom Hanks, accepting the best actor Oscar for his role in "Philadelphia," said he had learned tolerance from reading the Weekly Reader in grade school.

Through the generations, youngsters have learned from the Weekly Reader about such things as politics (including the Bill Clinton-Monica Lewinsky affair), war and the environment.

In L.A. County, the Weekly Reader is delivered by mail to 1,258 elementary school and 641 secondary school classrooms, public and private. Nationwide, it reports a paid subscription base of 7 million, which includes schools, individuals and others.

Subscribers include Turning Point, a private school in Culver City where animated seventh-grader Chase Koopersmith, 12, was chosen to be a Weekly Reader kid correspondent. She made a behind-the-scenes visit last month to TV's "Entertainment Tonight" and filed a report posted with photos on the Weekly Reader Galaxy Web site and in Teen Newsweek.

"It's not always fun," Chase said, "but it helps us learn what's happening in the world." She did, however, rate the fun factor quite high on her visit to Paramount Studios in Hollywood.

Among her observations: "ET" host Bob Goen is "very funny and always making jokes"--and he wears a lot of makeup. She learned that his most embarrassing moment was being mistaken by a fan for Donny Osmond. And he offered this advice for kids who think they want to go into TV: "Don't do it because you want to be a star."

These field trips, sponsored by Weekly Reader as extracurricular learning experiences, have included coverage of the Nickelodeon Kids' Choice Awards in L.A., a plum for 10-year-old correspondent Maria Diaz of Los Angeles. The Weekly Reader will send a New Orleans-based kid correspondent to cover this year's Super Bowl.

Chase, chosen by the head of her middle school, is a one-time Ivory soap baby who has done commercials for M&Ms, Pizza Hut and others until, she said, "I had an ugly stage with my teeth," which are now in braces. She likes shopping, Ashley Judd, Brad Pitt and softball and wants to be a fashion designer. She gets good grades too.

The Weekly Reader's roots date from 1902, when Charles Palmer Davis, a newspaperman, inherited a family farm in Agawam, Mass., and became active in the community, serving on the school board.

Piddock tells the story this way: Visiting a classroom to see how kids were being taught, Davis found "they'd put on a show for him, recitations of Greek myths, things like that. He asked them, 'Who is the president of the United States?' [then William McKinley], and of this class of 30 or so, only two kids raised their hands.

"He thought, why not start a newspaper that brings the world into the classroom in a way teachers can use? He called it Current Events. It took off like wildfire."

Through the years, My Weekly Reader (the "My" was gradually phased out) has become the best known and most widely circulated of a group of 17 publications, including Current Events, now owned by New York-based WRC Media Inc. The others, in addition to Teen Newsweek, include Read and Current Science.

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