Children's magazines -- ''Sesame Street Magazine,'' ''Boomerang,'' and ''Sports Illustrated for Kids'' are some of the titles recommended

Children’s magazines

Children’s magazines hit the mark when they engage kids in the world at large. Once involved, kids are unwittingly motivated to read, write, and calculate, even if it’s batting averages they’re figuring out. Because there are so many titles for kids, selecting just the right ones can be a challenge. Here, to make it a little easier, is a guide to the most notable.

Sesame Street Magazine
This magazine will be colored and cut to shreds by the time a young child is through with it. Activities follow the seasons: Readers try to match Bert and Ernie with their shadow silhouettes around Halloween and help Big Bird draw a path to Granny Bird’s Nest at Thanksgiving time. All the while there are reminders that people are different: Some kids may speak a foreign language, others may ride in wheelchairs. Whether or not the young reader knows Cookie Monster’s deep, silly voice from the PBS show doesn’t matter. Practically any preschooler would enjoy the variation on pin-the-tail-on-the-donkey that appeared in a recent issue: Kids were asked to shut their eyes and try to tape paper cut-out cookies in the monster’s mouth. As C.M. himself would say, ”Yum! Yum!” A

P3: The Earth-Based Magazine for Kids
P3, which stands for ”Planet 3” in the solar system — the Earth — has a renegade MTV look and a breezy, can-do attitude. Whether it reports on dwindling wolf packs or proliferating discarded six-pack plastic rings, the magazine always suggests that kids can write letters to people with the power to correct environmental problems. It also includes information on how children can get even more involved. And every issue of P3 helpfully gives out George Bush’s home address in Washington, D.C. B+

If your preteen doesn’t mind being seen with a dumb smile occasionally flashing across his face, I recommend he listen to this new audio magazine. (The sounds of wild coyotes and bayou rhythms are remarkably vivid on a Walkman.) On this tape kids do all the talking. Stories and travelogues are mixed in with features that demonstrate a sly sense of humor as they describe how grown-ups manage tricks like buying on credit. Boomerang!‘s account of the Persian Gulf crisis in its January edition was one of the best — and clearest — I’ve come across anywhere. The discussion among kids about the instability in that region focused on how to cope with a bully without becoming one yourself. B+

Sports Illustrated for Kids
This magazine from Time Warner Inc., which also publishes Time and Entertainment Weekly, features interviews with pro standouts (talking about their careers and childhoods), profiles of accomplished young athletes, and sports puzzles. The pages have a jazzy look, with female athletes conspicuously present. Finding out that Monica Seles frequently had to improvise by using a parking lot as a tennis court in her native Yugoslavia or that the NFL’s Dexter Manley struggled with a learning disability can only be an inspiration to young readers. A

Formerly known as Penny Power, this junior version of Consumer Reports really packs a punch. Kids candidly evaluate such products as bicycle helmets. No real ads appear, but plenty of very funny parodies do. Zillions‘ insider information on how products are marketed to make them seem irresistible should be required reading for anyone growing up in this consumer culture. The dull overall design of the mag-azine, though, sometimes ends up trivializing its strong editorial content. B+

Simpsons Illustrated
No doubt some parents and teachers will heartily disapprove of the new Simpsons Illustrated because of its irreverent approach to school. For that reason, and plenty of others, kids are sure to enjoy it. A classroom map in a recent issue , was just right; with portions shaded to indicate areas subject to ”maximum teacher scrutiny,” it may even have been helpful. You don’t need to be a regular viewer of the TV show to get the jokes — as I, perhaps the only person in America who has never seen The Simpsons, can attest. A

Highlights for Children
Highlights reminds me of the kind of classroom where everyone watches the clock. The stories and illustrations in this 45-year-old magazine have a textbook blandness. Young readers are often treated to stories with morals so obvious they’re uninteresting. In one recent tale, two competitive girls come to realize they should be working with, not against, each other. ”Like (the coach) says,” one of the girls declares, ”softball should be fun.” Other pages are crowded with puzzles, word games, and brain-teasing questions. Nothing much has changed in this Highlights world — that’s comforting, but sometimes a little dull. C

Cricket: The Magazine for Children
One of the grandes dames of kids’ magazines (it’s been around since 1973), Cricket can be a little staid at times, particularly in its short stories. But the ”Letterbox” and ”Cricket League” columns are brimming with life. ”League” reports on contest results (a recent competition asked readers to write a story about an adventure in a museum). For ”Letterbox,” kids from around the world send in stories, inane jokes, draw-ings, and snippets that speak volumes. ”P.P.P.S. I am Hindu,” writes 8-year-old Yaamini Rao from California in a letter about frogs in his backyard. B

Ladybug: The Magazine for Young Children
Shoes take late-night walks on their own and elephants paint themselves in riotous colors in this elegant publication, which draws on the talents of top-notch children’s authors and illustrators (Helen Oxenbury, Tomie de Paola, Marc Brown). The magazine, which comes from the same publisher as Cricket, isn’t afraid to include beautifully illustrated classics like ”Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star” and Mother Goose rhymes. Who cares if grown-ups have heard them before? Altogether, not much is interactive, current, or otherwise modern magazine-ish about Ladybug. But it is a good, whimsical bedtime read. A-

OWL: The Discovery Magazine for Children
You’d expect a magazine put out by Canada’s Young Naturalist Foundation to have extraordinary close-up photos of such sights as bald eagle chicks looking fluffy (but not exactly cute), and the pages of OWL never disappoint. The magazine also treats young readers to the sometimes delectably gross-out life-styles of animals that spit in your eye (the appropriately named African spitting cobra) and cockroaches that dine on fingernail clippings. A-