Audio magazine leaves kids wanting more
Most magazines measure their success by how happy people are to subscribe. Boomerang magazine measures its success by how unhappy people are to unsubscribe.
Geared to children aged 6-12, Boomerang has such loyal fans they hate to outgrow the magazine. "People write me two-page letters when they stop subscribing," says Boomerang's creator and producer, David Strohm. Some just keep getting the magazine well past their 12th birthdays. "I had one kid write to me who was going to Brown [University]. She wanted to give me her forwarding address," says Strohm.
What product could inspire such devotion, as well as awards from the American Library Association and rave reviews in media ranging from the Utne Reader to the Washington Post?
Boomerang is an audio magazine, delivered in cassette or CD form once a month. "It's what kids' radio would be like, if good kids' radio existed," says Strohm. Indeed, if "All Things Considered" and "Prairie Home Companion" had a child, the result might very well be Boomerang.
Each 70-minute issue contains regular segments that cover science, current events, history and economics, interwoven with jokes, commentary on the silly things parents do and other fun stuff. Features are researched and written by Strohm, but presented by kids.
Parents like to listen-and learn-as well. "I like it," says Thekla Metz of Evanston, "It's great." She and her husband, John, get Boomerang for their daughters Phoebe, 9, and Mira, 5. They have also given subscriptions as gifts to two other families.
Metz credits the magazine for making complex subjects easy to understand. "I remember once they were explaining the workings of the economy, and I thought, ‘I get it!' " she says.
She is not the only adult to find the features informative. Entertainment Weekly said Boomerang had "the best and clearest coverage of the war in the Persian Gulf … anywhere."
Kevin and Jane Doherty of the Beverly neighborhood have subscribed to Boomerang for nearly all of its 13-year history. Jane says she has often used it as a tool in home-schooling her six kids, who range from 11 to 23. She appreciates the magazine's fair-mindedness.
"They're very even in their reporting. They seem to lean neither left nor right; they have a balanced approach to political issues. And they cover issues I'd be hard put to put at children's level, like desegregation," she says.
Her youngest son, Patrick, says, "I really like the stories."
Patrick is David Strohm's type of guy. "A key aspect of our magazine is using stories to present information. Stories make an impression on kids," says Strohm, while making difficult topics easier to digest.
Strohm became acutely aware of the power stories hold for kids in 1989 while watching TV coverage of the fall of the Berlin Wall with his daughter Jessica, then 8. "She was asking me about it, but she wasn't interested in it as a news story. She was interested in it as a story-a fairy tale," he says. "There was a city divided in two, families separated. A good story."
Intrigued, Strohm, a journalist, began researching the idea of communicating information theatrically, which led to Boomerang. Each segment has a different style, ranging from the hard-boiled tone of kid detective Tucker Jones to the musings of DJ Ben Jammin', broadcasting "from the messy bedroom, somewhere in the universe."
The on-air talent is taken from Strohm's friends and family in LaHonda, Calif. Strohm started out using professional voice-over actors, but he learned to use the kids around him. Nick and Chad Keith are "a couple a kids we know who are such crackups," says Strohm, that he developed just for them, Widget and Whack-brothers who dissect and explain the mechanics of household appliances. Strohm also appears in each issue, most notably as Dave Schmave. In the Schmave's Elevator segments, Strohm tells about growing up with six brothers and sisters in the Good Old Days in northwest suburban Woodstock. ("The good old days," he notes wryly, "are now the '60s and '70s.") While the stories are fictional, Strohm uses real names and locations from his childhood to tell engaging stories that emphasize central values like hope and courage.
Phoebe Metz, the 9-year-old from Evanston, sums up Boomerang by saying, "It is very good and it has very funny parts." Boomerang is available at some public libraries. Subscriptions are $71.40 a year. To subscribe or order a sample issue, see Boomerang's Web site at www.boomkids.com or call (800) 333-7858. But be warned: You may never want to cancel.
Amy Eagle is a writer and mom (not necessarily in that order) in Homewood.
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