With an entire day’s drive ahead of them, Dr. Garry Cleveland Myers and his wife Caroline left their Honesdale, Wayne County office with a destination, a manuscript, and a vision. Their destination was Columbus, Ohio; the manuscript was the first issue of Highlights for Children magazine; and the vision was to create a children’s magazine to entertain children while providing them with an education. Little did the Myers know that this trip in June 1946 would go on to change not only their lives, but the lives of countless children and adults for generations to come.
With a uniquely illustrated front cover, a recognizable large title, and the motto “Fun with a Purpose,” Highlights for Children magazine is one of the most noted magazines to be found. Throughout its pages are comics, stories, and puzzles which have delighted children, and even some adults, for decades—all while providing positive values, education, and, as former editor Kent Brown declared, “worthy role models and an ambition to be like them.”
Dr. Garry Cleveland Myers and his wife, Caroline, first published this combination of fun and education in June 1946, in what they titled Highlights for Children. While this was the Myers first attempt at publishing a children’s magazine on their own, it was not the first work they had done with children’s publications. Long before the Myers were filling Highlights with fun stories and clever puzzles, Dr. and Mrs. Myers were employed as editors with the children’s magazine Children’s Activities (which Highlights would later go on to acquire). When they were not editing, the Myers spent time with children in the classroom, sharing with them the vital importance of education in some of the same ways which would go on to fill their magazine. This interaction with students played a crucial role in the Myers starting their own magazine, with Mrs. Myers stating, “I have often thought it was the experience of all that traveling that brought about Highlights for Children.” The Myers felt that childhood was a joyous time in any person’s life, and they wanted their own educational fun and games to be a part of that.
While the time the Myers spent in the classroom putting smiles on children’s faces and an education in their minds, it was not the only factor which led to Highlights. The way Children’s Activities was being managed was unsettling to the Myers. Although there was an emphasis on education present within the pages of Children’s Activities, the Myers grew increasingly uncomfortable with the business end of the magazine. To them, it seemed that business was taking precedence over the education of children. One way the Myers saw this was the increased amount of advertising found within the pages of Children’s Activities—something the Myers later made sure never reached the pages of their own publication. While advertisements aimed at children may seem fun and appealing, the important fun has a greater purpose—as seen with the loveable and memorable characters found in Highlights. This changing direction, in addition to their experience with students, prompted the Myers to leave Children’s Activities and take the bold step of starting their own magazine.
The Myers began in 1946 when the couple first established Highlights for Children. Turning to their past, the Myers, who were born, raised, and educated in Pennsylvania, moved to the Wayne County town of Honesdale, to begin their magazine. With nothing more than themselves, a small staff, and a vision to educate children, the Myers set up Highlights in a two-room office located above a car dealership—hardly an ideal setting for a children’s magazine. Working tirelessly, the Myers and their staff were able to complete the first issue of Highlights within one month. The issue was full of smiles and surprises to ensure a good time for children—one smile being the popular “Hidden Pictures.” Shortly thereafter, the Myers placed an order with a printer in Columbus, Ohio for twenty thousand copies to be printed. In June of that year, the Myers themselves drove the manuscript to Columbus to see their vision start to become a reality.
As the pages came off the presses, the Myers found themselves with their first issue in print. While they had much enthusiasm, the first issue of Highlights failed to sell as well as the Myers had hoped, leaving them with extra copies. Instead of feeling defeated, the Myers and the rest of the staff at Highlights held their heads high like the characters within the magazine, and found new methods to sell more copies. An even greater goal was to get the magazine into the hands of children to help them learn.
Subsequent printings of Highlights for Children saw various new methods employed to get the magazines in front of children. Staff members began selling the magazine sold door-to-door armed with sample copies throughout the Honesdale community. This method not only helped get the magazine to the public, but aided in sharing the message of education. Also notable was the strong push by the magazine to become a mainstay in doctor’s and dentist’s offices throughout the area. While getting the magazine into the home was a priority, having the magazine in these offices where children routinely go for check-ups and care proved successful. This method helped guarantee that children were seeing what the Myers had to offer with Highlights. To the children, however, it gave them a chance to have a smile while at the doctor, even if they may not be leaving with one.
Although these methods had helped, the Myers and early Highlights staff turned to a unique and creative marketing tool to increase readership. Early issues of Highlights came with a six card insert, with each card an individual subscription form. While many were encountering these inserts intact, they felt unsure if they should remove one—after all, the magazine teaches to respect other’s property. As the publishers began to notice this, they took action in a very creative way. When newer issues of Highlights were sent out, the inserts were still present. What was changed, however, was that each insert had one subscription card removed. This was done in an effort to encourage the public to take cards, which they ultimately did.
The strong basis the Myers and the early staff laid down for Highlights in the late 40s and early 50s paved the way for Highlights to become the magazine it is today. With over one billion copies in print, sixty-four years after the first issue was released, Highlights has become the most subscribed children’s magazine in the world, passing through multiple generations of readers. The push to make the magazine a part of many children’s lives proved successful, as many people can recall the magazine in some portion of their childhood.
While Highlights for Children has figured prominently in the lives of children, other magazines have found their way into the arena. Other publications such as Cricket and Ranger Rick have become popular amongst the audience of children. Published in 1973 and 1967 respectively, these magazines both share the same ideas as Highlights, to educate children while allowing them to have fun. While both of these magazines, as well as countless others, have been acclaimed, it all comes as a result of the door Highlights had opened with its push to be a successful magazine even when success was hard to find.
The continued prosperity of Highlights comes only as a result of the magazine staying true to its founder’s original vision. Printed on the first issue was the phrase “Fun with a Purpose,” a motto that the magazine adheres to on every page—including the front page, which still carries the motto on every issue printed. Notable other aspects of the founder’s original vision are held in high priority as well. The Myers were certain that no advertisements would find their way into the magazine’s pages and to this day, that vision is true. While advertising is ever present in the current world, Highlights ensures that children are not subject to this, as every puzzle, joke, and story in the magazine is free of advertisements of any sort.
The puzzles, jokes, and stories found in the magazine today also reach back to the past. Of these features, one which many readers can recall as a fun time is “Goofus & Gallant,” a comic strip featuring two twin boys in some interesting daily happenings. The boys’ names serve as the title of the strip, with Gallant representing a “Boy Do-Good” type while Goofus representing the “Boy Do-Bad” type. While children are examining the sometimes silly happenings of the boys, they are able to contrast their experiences, gaining an idea of what right and wrong are in a wide variety of situations.
While “Goofus & Gallant” are finding their way in childhood mishaps, “The Timbertoes” are also finding themselves in some fun situations. Consisting of Ma and Pa, children Mable and Tommy, and the family pets, Spot the dog and Splinter the cat, the Timbertoes are a wooden family who often share in a surprise or funny situation with readers. Whether they are sharing in a laugh or surprising one another, this family invites children in to share. While children are laughing along with this wooden family, they are learning various family values ranging from parents to siblings.
Once children have spent some time with their old friends “Goofus & Gallant” and “The Timbertoes,” the favorite page fourteen awaits, the home of “Hidden Pictures” since the very first issue. Often dealing with a somewhat silly situation, even more fun is found as children attempt to find abstract objects in the most unlikely situations. Whether it is fish in a classroom or a random hammer in nature, “Hidden Pictures” is always likely to bring some fun. While children search for these objects, they are learning new vocabulary, concentration skills, and the ability to let your imagination run wild. From the first issue to the most recent, children have used these skills, much like the Myers original intent.
While Highlights currently maintains its commitment to the original focus of the Myers, they have not let the purposeful fun stop there. Within recent years, the magazine and the vision of educating children has expanded. The staff now has a companion piece to Highlights for Children titled Highlights High Five, which brings fun and education to children below the age of six. The company also publishes story books and puzzle books which keep children learning while having fun. Additionally, the company has kept up with technology by creating a website where children can access even more puzzles, games, and stories, to learn with a smile beyond the pages of the magazine.
Perhaps the most important aspect of Highlights is the continued commitment to children’s creativity and voice. Throughout the years, the magazine has continually encouraged children to produce their own original artwork, poetry, and stories in an effort to stimulate their creativity. In each issue, pieces of children’s work are selected and published in the section “Our Own Pages.” This is an accomplishment that can prove huge for children, as New York Times bestselling author Stephen J. Dubner describes his own work being published in the magazine and its importance: “It was a big boost, and I’ve never known a kid who doesn’t appreciate a boost once in a while.” Certainly, it is rewarding for children to see their work printed on the pages of a magazine they value. What is more rewarding, however, is that children are learning how to express themselves in safe and creative ways.
Along with the commitment to teaching children creativity, Highlights also makes sure that children are heard in other ways. Each month, the magazine receives approximately three thousand letters from children. When commenting on the letters, former editor Kent Brown proudly declared, “Every letter we receive from a child gets a response. We take the responsibility to our readership seriously.” While most letters range from praise for the magazine to common childhood problems—such as siblings or school—the staff makes sure each letter gets an individual response. Some of the more general letters are even included in the section “Dear Highlights” so other children too shy to write in can also get help with their problems. This communication Highlights has with its readers is something to note, as some other popular children’s magazines fail to give the same individualized response to letters received.
Certainly by receiving that many letters monthly, Highlights has clearly won the praises of audience of children. The praise has not ended there though. Many former readers of Highlights from several generations still praise the magazine for the educational beliefs that their experience taught them. First introduced to the magazine in 1949 while in school, one reader shared, “That experience started me on a lifetime of reading enjoyment.” Additionally, another reader added that Highlights served as a “life-long learning experience.” One former reader even shared, “The magazine was entertaining and served as a second school day.” While awards and critical praise can go a long way, the evidence that Highlights succeeds in its mission to teach readers is something that truly stands above everything else.
Highlights’ mission to teach is one that reaches far and wide. While the magazine is a mainstay of doctor and dentist’s offices, the magazine has also found its way into the classroom. Since the first issue was published in 1946, teachers have used the magazine in countless classrooms for years. One teacher shared of their twenty-five year teaching career, “I would rely on the publication, Highlights, to supplement academic and behavioral needs for my students…This was a most useful publication.” Many teachers throughout classrooms worldwide use the stories, puzzles, and other aspects of the magazine to enhance teaching in the classroom in entertaining ways. One example of the worldwide impact is the Highlights magazine titled Hello Friend, which is published in Korea to help Korean children learn English in entertaining and accessible ways.
While being entertained by “Goofus & Gallant,” teachers can teach students right and wrong by the “Do-Good” and “Do-Bad” behavior of the title characters. In the tense moments of trying to find a specific object in “Hidden Pictures,” teachers can expand vocabulary and demonstrate attention to detail. Even with the daily happenings of “The Timbertoes,” teachers can further teach positive family values. The students see the teachers of having a fun day in the classroom when Highlights is used, but the teachers see a unique method to teach their students—the “Fun with a Purpose” method.
Though praise from the teaching community and children is strong, some of the strongest praise for Highlights comes from former readers wanting to share the magazine with younger readers; not only to share the entertainment, but share the value of learning. One Highlights fan shares, “Over the past years, I ordered Highlights for my grandchildren…Now I am planning to order both High Five and Highlights for Children for my five great-grandchildren.” Several other readers share that same desire to see future generations learn in the same fun and successful ways that they have learned. The praise even goes beyond education, but as a centerpiece of certain relationships between family members, as one reader noted:
My parents divorced when my sister and I were very young. After that life was hard. My mom struggled to make ends meet and couldn’t afford to buy extra things. One day as a surprise we received a Highlights magazine. It was from my Dad’s parents who live in Texas; whom we had only ever talked to on the phone. I’ll never forget how special and connected that made me feel.
While the educational value is clear, it is difficult to measure just how many lives Highlights has changed in this respect. The importance of sharing a gift that emphasizes fun and education may not be obvious to children right away, but as they grow up they eventually come to appreciate how thoughtful a gift of that nature is to receive—especially from a loved one. It is this type of praise, however, that cannot be measured by any award or honor given to the magazine.
This is the type of praise the Myers themselves would have loved to hear. Not only was education happening, but family was also coming through. The Myers would often gather their children and grandchildren in Honesdale for weeks at a time during the summer to share in the same type of fun found in the magazine. While the Myers would be humbled by the countless honors the magazine has received over the years, hearing that children have learned and families have been brought closer together would have been much more rewarding.
Stepping inside their car in Honesdale that June day, both Dr. and Mrs. Myers had little idea what their vision would turn into. They had never imagined much for their simple children’s magazine. All they really wanted was for children to walk away with positive values and perhaps having learned something new. Certainly, that would have been successful enough for the Myers. Instead, the magazine has become successful worldwide while changing education and what it means to have fun as a child in the process. Whether it is through the classroom, a doctor’s office, or simply giving the magazine as a gift, countless numbers of children and adults have been changed as a result of their experience with Highlights for Children. These ideas were all far from the minds of the Myers on that summer day. What was on their minds was getting to Columbus, Ohio with their manuscript and vision in order to accomplish what they truly loved to do: educate children while letting them share in a life with some really likeable characters.
The Center wishes to thank Pat Mikelson at Highlights for Children for her help illustrating this article.