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I am a firm believer in children having access to a wide variety of printed material as an aid to developing literacy. Because I home educate, and the only local library sadly has less variety in reading material than my own home, I feel very strongly that I must make sure my son has all the resources he needs to not only learn to read, but to develop a love for reading. For this reason I like to have a variety of magazines as well as books, comics, and other medium to encourage reading. We subscribed to National Geographic Kids for some time, but my son has grown bored with these, so I've been searching for other magazines to replace it. While many of the magazines I have reviewed were free samples, I bought a collection of 10 older magazines in this series. As one of these is still shown online as the companies example of this magazine, I am quite confident they still represent the overall feel of the magazine.
Discovery Box is produced by Bayard Magazines for children ages 9 -12. They also produce Storybox for ages 3-6, and Adventure Box for ages 6 -9. My children are ages 4 and 7, so perhaps it would have made more sense to choose one of the magazines designed for older children, but thankfully 2 full issues of each magazine are available to read online free of charge here: http://issuu.com/bayard_magazines
It was immediately obvious that the older children's magazine would be far more suitable for my son, as both of the publications for younger children are fiction only. My children do enjoy fiction, but they are quite selective in what fiction they enjoy - a trait very common in boys. It is often said that boys do not enjoy reading as much as girls do. This is not true - boys do enjoy reading - you just have to put more work into finding the right books. My sons are also both very interested in non - fiction, again a trait typical of boys. Many boys will only self select non fiction titles, and a good supply of non fiction materials is considered essential for developing literacy in boys, where girls are more likely to read whatever is available. That said there are girls who follow the same reading pattern as boys - and without access to a wide selection of reading materials are just as likely to fall behind in reading as the boys as are.
Discovery Box is an excellent magazine for those who are looking for a publication that covers a wide variety of educational interests. It does contain some fiction. Each magazine has one story told in comic book style, complete with illustrated panels, a second short work of fiction and a secret sleuth case in which the reader will read all the clues and try to solve the case. The majority of the magazine is non fiction however, and there is a good mix of subjects covered. Each issue has a has articles on science, nature and geography.
The 10 issues I own contain articles introducing us to such far flung parts of the globe as Kenya, India, Antarctica, Malaysia, Dominican Republic, Togo, China, Venice, Kyrgyzstan, Ecuador, South Africa and Australia. This is my favourite feature of this magazine. As a home educator, I am all too aware that while home educated children often develop very specialised knowledge within their fields of interests, they can be lacking in more general knowledge simply because we tend to select the materials we enjoy most and are already familiar with. A magazine such as this brings new places to our attention and is a wonderful way for children to learn a bit about the world around them.
Each issue contains a section for animal lovers as well, with a wide mix of creatures. My sons liked the penguins, sharks,and of course the limited articles on prehistoric creatures best. There were plenty of other animals as well from tigers to lemurs to anacondas and ants. I quite liked a section on the wolf in Europe. There is also an animal info column with advice on pets - although I'm not so sure about their rabbit advice.
The best part for my sons is the science articles. All sorts of topics were covered including the moon, animatronic dinosaurs, a microscope, what causes tooth decay, how mountains are formed, volcanoes and more. These are certainly fun, well illustrated and easy to read - but my son has caught one error in an article on Archeopteryx. The magazine lists this as a flying dinosaur, where any paleontology buff, including my seven year old son can tell you that by definition - dinosaurs do not fly.
While my sons wasn't interested enough to read any of the history articles except the one on the South Pole expeditions of Scott and Amundsen, unless it was part of his schoolwork, I was quite impressed with the way the history stories are presented. The stories are well written, they appear in graphic novel format, and the illustrations are quite good. This is followed by a separate traditional article on the same general subject. This will make a wonderful resource in teaching history and these are an excellent addition to our curriculum. Some of the topics covered include: The Journey To the South Pole, A Merchant Family in Venice The Sioux at War, The American Gold Rush, Charles Lindbergh, Nelson Mandela and South Africa, the Aztecs, the tomb of king Tut and the people of ancient Egypt. Again, using the magazine as part of our curriculum encourages to read about familiar topics we enjoy, but also new and different ones, giving my son a broader perspective on history.
In addition to the main topics, the magazine also contains fun facts, puzzles, science experiments, recipes and more. Like most publications, they do have a brief advertisement for subscriptions, but there is no commercial advertising whatsoever. So a 60 page magazine contains one page advertising for the Bayard Magazines, a second page urging you not to miss the next issue and 58 pages of content. Quite fair in my opinion.
So will I be subscribing? I'm afraid not at the moment. I can only subscribe to so many magazines and my sons primary interest is science. While this magazine is wonderful as part of a home education curriculum, and would be wonderful in a classroom as well - I'm afraid it does not interest my son enough that he will pick it up to read on his own. He will use this when I assign reading from it as part of his school work, and he may quite enjoy some of the activities and articles but he does not seek this out himself. This does not get read cover to cover as Aquila does - nor does it quite match Aquila or How it Works in terms of really capturing his interest. Some magazines manage to be very educational without you ever noticing it. This magazine is very educational - but you do notice it. It is good but I do feel that Aquila and How it Works deliver a bit more educationally and are more fun in the process. I will certainly use the magazines I have now, and I may subscribe to more in the future as a part of our curriculum. I would not consider buying these if I were not home educating but this is largely due to my sons' own tastes. If I am buying a magazine to encourage reading for pleasure - it needs to be one that suits them best - and primarily science magazines are more suitable for my children.
If you are looking for a good general interest magazine for children, to cover a wide variety of interests, this may suit you perfectly. If you are a home educator - I can certainly see this being a useful resource. At £40 for 10 issues, I do feel the subscription price is too much for what you get, but if you happen to be a Tesco Clubcard member you can get this for a much more reasonable £11 in vouchers. I feel that most children will at least find something they like in each magazine - but it may be too much like school work for many. If you child is attending a regular school - I don't see much reason for more school work at home unless your child genuinely enjoys these types of articles. I do feel that a child going to school should be getting most of their education there. For ordinary families you might very well be better off with a subscription to Marvel comics, Moshi Monsters or a Football magazine. Sometimes we try to hard to make everything educational when the best way to learn is simply by having fun. Outside of school - I would rather see a child read any magazine for pleasure then an educational one because they have to.
Discovery Box by Bayard is one of their series of monthly magazines. I was lucky enough to be given some of these for my nieces and nephews, and so have looked through them and talked to them about what they thought of them before reviewing them here.
The Discovery Box Magazine is aimed at the 9-12 year old group, and costs £4.15. It's 55 pages long, glossy and falls somewhere between a magazine and a small book. Unlike the other two magazines in the Bayard Box Magazine range, this one doesn't feature a long story, in fact it's far more magazine than either of the other two in it's style, but think more National Geographic rather than Just 17.
Like most magazines it's quite formulaic in terms of how it's laid out. It begins with a fold out page each month that is almost poster style. However it features something such as Prehistoric Cave men, What lives in a lake, The statue of liberty and how it's made, or whatever. This is followed by a few pages that relate to it, so for the Statue of liberty one, the following pages relate to what it might have been like starting a new life in America between 1820 and 1914. In the one about Cave men, it talks about Neanderthal people and how they hunted, and so on. The content isn't always in the same order, but generally each magazine has a section on History, Science, World, Animals, as well as various bits that come under the heading 'fun stuff'.
Some of the magazine is done cartoon style, other bits are snippets of information in boxes across a page with loads to look at. They include the odd interview in there, as well as the occasional competition. The 'fun stuff' bits vary some, and can include things like recipes, competition results, make it things like a basket ball hoop or pirate hook, and quizzes.
I have 2 nephews and 1 niece who fall into the age range for this magazine - the boys are 10 and 12, and the girl is 10. I was given a variety of these magazines to share with them, and asked them to look through and tell me what they thought. I figure it's all very well me saying what I think, but when it's aimed at kids, it's far better to get an idea what they think too.
~*~ Our thoughts: ~*~
Me - I don't know that I'd be comfortable spending £4.15 on this each month, as although the quality of the paper is high, and it's something that will last, I don't think it's the sort of thing that holds enough of interest for kids to want to return to it over and over again as they might a book. Having said that, the contents in each one was quite good, and I found some of it interesting myself when I read through it. I liked that it had almost the feel of a junior version of National Geographic or Readers Digest - the sort of magazine which I myself enjoy reading.
Nephew 1 (10) - liked it a lot, thought the stuff on prehistoric people was good and so was the stuff in another one on wolves. Said the quizzes were good but the answers should have been on a different page instead so it would have been harder to cheat. When asked if he'd read it again - got lots of nods.
Nephew 2 (12) - Said it was interesting in places, but a bit too much like school stuff. He didn't think it was a good bargain and wouldn't want to buy it with his pocket money because it was much too expensive - he thought it should have been about £2 instead. His favourite bit was in issue 134 where it had stuff about how they make 3d animation and he now wants a book about that.
Niece (10) - found bits interesting, but she prefers magazines with things about hair and makeup and music in them. She wouldn't read it again unless there wasn't anything else to read. She also thought it talked down to her too much and made her feel like it was treating her too much like a kid.
So, there you have it - Our review on the Discovery Box Magazines is a bit of a mixed bag really. I suppose what it boils down to is that if your child is the sort who likes reading facts about real things and is towards the younger end of the scale they'll probably enjoy it if you can afford it. If they're into the pre-teen music and clothes thing already then forget it, this isn't going to hold much sway. Once again it does seem to be aimed towards the younger end of the age group that they are suggesting that it's for however, so maybe they need to re-think who they're aiming these at.