Too Cool for "Highlights": Kids' Magazines We Actually Worshipped

If you were a kid in the 1990’s, you know there was so much more going on in the world of magazines than that sticky back issue of Highlights being fought over in the dentist’s waiting room. In a life lived largely without Internet, magazines were our gateway onto other worlds. Whether I wanted to learn what kids did to celebrate their birthdays in China or read an in-depth analysis of the best scented deodorants for pre-pubescent girls, there was a magazine to help me do it.

Disney Adventures

This magazine featured entertainment news, comics and cartoons, interviews, celebrity profiles, and games. In other words, it was a joy to read when I was a Disney-obsessed youth craving the real story behind, say, the making of Pocahontas. I don’t totally remember what was sooooo cool about this magazine but I know it was all very cartoon-heavy, to the point where they started a spin-off magazine called Comic Zone.

Girl’s Life

The first cover to feature a celebrity

On the total opposite end of the spectrum from gender-neutral Disney Adventures, Girl’s Life was a magazine strictly for females. It had a definite “real girl” bent, to the extent where they wouldn’t feature famous girls on their covers. Of course, once they realized that celebrities sell magazines, they totally caved and now present the likes of Selena Gomez and the Cheetah Girls in all their glossy glory. But when I was little, this magazine was the source for advice on peer pressure, puberty, and where to find a kick-ass penpal. Seriously.

Nickelodeon Magazine

I can still recite this commercial, so clearly I was pretty into this magazine. And how brilliant it was! Kids lucky enough to have cable subscriptions were already obsessed with watching Nickelodeon, and this magazine gave us branded content we could feel cool about reading. In addition to stories about other kids, entertainment articles, and comics, there were recipes for slime cake and a magazine mascot in the form of a sarcastic dog named Zelda Van Gutters. Fun fact: this magazine was originally distributed only at Pizza Hut. Doesn’t get much more ’90s than that.

Zillions (a.k.a. Consumer Reports for Kids)

Why was I in love with this magazine? What was there even to like? If my parents want to find someone other than themselves to blame for my rampant, obsessive consumerism, this magazine is probably it. I mean, sure, it claimed to help kids make smart consumer choices on hot-button issues such as which binder is best. But what it really did was introduce me to the fact that there were a whole bunch of binders to choose from and, hey, I definitely wanted at least one.

American Girl Magazine

I wanted the dolls. For a very long time, I wasn’t allowed to have the dolls. I settled for the magazine. Sure, the magazine had nothing to do with the famously expensive and gorgeous line of historical collector’s dolls (and all the accessories you could dream of to go with), but it was meant for girls and had lots of benign articles on arts and crafts.

Sports Illustrated for Kids

I had to include this simply because I am probably the last person on earth who would ever read even three words about sports, yet I subscribed to this magazine for years. Behold, the power of telling my childhood self that something was meant for kids! Designed just for me! I used to get offended if a restaurant didn’t give me the kids’ menu, and believe me, if they made restaurant menus specifically for “women in their late 20s with a penchant for junk food”, it would be the only menu I’d order from.

I totally get why magazines don’t quite make sense anymore. We have email and cell phones, texting and Tweeting, Instagram, Tumblr, and Hello Giggles. We don’t need to wait a month to read about the characters on our favorite TV shows; we can read Rory Gilmore fan fiction anytime we want to. So while I don’t want to sound like the cranky grandmother I so obviously am on my way to becoming, I kind of miss the anticipation of it all. Waiting for a new issue. Having to use a stamp to mail in that contest entry. Using a pen to take a quiz that will tell me exactly what kind of slumber party I should host. The world has changed, we’ve all grown up. But I’d still be really excited if you wanted to be my pen pal.

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