Scholastic Magazines Inc will began publishing Storyworks, a literature-based magazine for children, early in 1993. The magazine is targeted for third-to-fifth graders and will have an initial copy run of 250,000.
It's an idea that seemed to give birth to itself: Scholastic, publisher of children's books and classroom magazines, is set to launch Storyworks, the first literature-based magazine for third-to-fifth grade students. Due to appear in late February/early March with a 250,000-copy print run, the premier issue contains a prototypical mix of offerings: stories from awardwinners Virginia Hamilton and Cynthia Rylant; an original play by Robert McCloskey based on his hero Homer Price; tips from an editor of the Guinness Book of World Records on how to make and publish a classroom book of records; trading cards featuring authors, characters and subjects of books; and more. "Our mission," Storyworks editor Tamara Hameman says simply, "is to turn kids on to great literature."
No one can quite pinpoint the moment or manner of Storyworks' conception--"Great ideas seem to be in the air when it's time for them to happen," says David Goddy, editorial director for Scholastic's language-arts magazines, who began shaping the idea about two years ago. As Hanneman recalls, "The trend toward whole-language and literature-based education had really picked up steam with the primary grades--first and second. It just seemed natural that the next phase was to move that into the upper'elementary grades, and natural for us at Scholastic to combine our strengths in book publishing and in children's magazine publishing."
While Hameman and Goddy have worked with Scholastic book editors and with specialists in the company's instructional publishing group, they also called on teachers and educators, initially conducting focus groups at conventions like the National Council of Teachers of English and the International Reading Association. Six literature and language-arts experts now serve on an advisory board; a second advisory board includes five classroom teachers.
Last summer a pilot issue was sent to 15 communities across the country, selected for demographic diversity and for a variety of teaching styles, with traditional as well as more progressive schools represented. Approximately 500 teachers and 14,00015,000 students tested the magazine. "We had students and teachers fill out surveys about what they liked and didn't like," Hanneman notes. "I spent the entire month of September in classrooms, talking to kids, getting their reactions to what we did and asking them really basic questions like, 'What do you want to read?'"
By and large, she says, "Teachers and students really loved what they saw, and sought out the books we recommended." Their specific reactions clarified the magazine's editorial direction. "We sort of put everything in the pilot issue, because we wanted to know what people thought. Since then we've sharpened our focus to emphasize quality literature--that's what the teacher can use most. We have so many ideas that we have to restrain ourselves and remember we have only a 32-page magazine, that the readers are nine years old and don't need a 64-page treatise on something."
'A Pathway to Literature'
Part of that commitment involves testing prospective articles, which are sent in manuscript form to classrooms. Teachers report on students' responses, questions and degree of interest. This information helps the Storyworks editors devise accompanying teacher's editions, which contain teaching ideas, recommendations of related books and suggestions for interactive writing projects. Hanneman says she hopes the guides will "show teachers a pathway to using literature in the classroom."
Beginning this fall, Storyworks will be published six times during the academic year, a frequency determined by teacher demand and suited to academic calendars. The price of the four-color, 32-page magazine is $3.95 per student per year.
Scholastic will be introducing the magazine at spring conventions and conducting a direct-marketing campaign. Other promotions reward teachers who order the magazine and also purchase titles from Scholastic's book group. "We're trying to emphasize the cross-pollination that's happening there," says Hanneman.
On the other hand, Hameman stresses that the pages of Storyworks are "by no means" limited to works by Scholastic authors. "We're looking for things that we can buy rights to reprint, particularly if they're new and something we can introduce teachers to. We're also looking for original work in the right length, 1500-2000 words."
Hanneman hopes to include short stories, "a forgotten genre for this age group," and she comments that an author with forthcoming nonfiction "could very easily do an original piece for us suitable to a magazine format." She's also enthusiastic about asking authors to take characters from a novel and put them into a spinoff, "a prequel or sequel," or to transplant them into a different genre. A fall issue, for example, will feature an original classroom play by Jon Scieszka and Lane Smith with characters from the Time Warp Trio.
"We're trying to get kids to read more and to make reading exciting," Hanneman summarizes. "That's the invisible sentence at the top of every page. Everything we do is geared toward that goal. We'd like to create a buzz about books."