Magazines for children make gifts that keep coming all year long

Every year at about this time, adults may be looking for a book to give to that special youngster in their lives. Of course, there are classics to choose from, brand-new favorites, fascinating paperbacks, and expensive artistic reproductions. But coming up with a good match between book and child can be a tall order.

There's another solution that could satisfy those people who want to encourage a child to read - a subscription to one of the many fine magazines published for children.

The advantages:

* It keeps on coming month after month, to help develop the habit of reading.

* Youngsters will often attempt to read above their present levels and develop more-mature interests.

* Variety and timeliness characterize some of the best children's magazines. The May 1981 issue of Cobblestone, for example, was devoted to the eruption of Mt. St. Helens. It included the Klikitats' legend of that mountain, entitled ''Loo-wit,'' eyewitness accounts of the eruption, and more.

* There are opportunities in children's magazines for youngsters themselves to write.

Many of the magazines will publish letters from readers, or their comments about favorite books. They will also answer questions sent in by the youngsters. A recent issue of 3-2-1 Contact invited children who had recently visited a museum to write about it in 100 words or less. Other magazines sponsor art, poetry, or story contests. This kind of writing has two important differences from classroom assignments: It is judged anonymously, with no favoritism or direct criticism, and the child is writing to be read, to communicate to others, rather than to impress or meet the demands of a teacher.

There are a variety of magazines that can be recommended for their high standards of language and illustration:

Cobblestone. Age range 9-13; 12 issues, $16.50; 28 Main Street, Peterborough, N.H. 03458. Cobblestone brings US history alive, focusing each issue on a single theme: the Pony Express, Frederic Remington, the Shakers, the US Constitution. Includes atlas pages, eyewitness accounts, and a readers' editorial page.

CompuKids: Computer Magazine for Beginners. Age range 10 and up; 12 issues,$ 16; Subscription Services, PO Box 975, Sedalia, Mo. 65301. This is not a beginner's magazine. It provides programs to be entered into such microcomputers as Apple, Atari, and Radio Shack. It also offers material that can help improve skills in math as well as creative programming. Writing opportunity: Computer- related articles and short stories are solicited for printing.

Cricket. Age range 8-12; 12 issues, $17.50; Box 2672, Boulder, Colo. 80321. Appeals to good students and excellent readers, using originals and excerpts from outstanding authors (Isaac Bashevis Singer, Lloyd Alexander, Ogden Nash, Carl Sandburg), as well as high-quality illustrators. Black and white format. Exciting poetry, art, and story contests.

National Geographic World. Age range 7-13; 12 issues., $8.95. Dept. 01182, 17th & M Streets, NW, Washington, D.C. 20036. A people-oriented junior version of the National Geographic Magazine, about natural history research from a working scientist's viewpoint. Writing options: a list of zoos that have animal ''adoption'' programs. ''Worldwatch'' prints readers' riddles, news items, and readers' responses.

Odyssey. Age range 8-14; 12 issues, $9.95; AstroMedia Corporation, PO Box 92788, Milwaukee, Wis. 53202. This clearly written monthly on space exploration and astronomical developments has experiments even eight-year-olds can do on their own. Readers soon discover that the science is real and that outer space is fascinating in its own right. Writing opportunities: a monthly newspaper section in which contributors share opinions about a different topic each month; and one for reader-written stories and poems.

Penny Power. Age range 8-15; 6 bi-monthly issues, $9; PO Box 1906, Marion, Ohio 43302. By far the most popular magazine described here. Penny Power is a junior version of Consumers Union. Youngsters are asked to check out toys, jeans , bikes, pizzas, etc., and their judgments are evaluated in eagerly read synopses containing graphs, charts, percentages, and comparisons. There are opportunities for readers to share experiences such as taking defective toys back. Recommended as a best buy.

Ranger Rick's Nature Magazine. Age range 5-11; 12 issues, $10.50; National Wildlife Federation, 1412 16th Street, NW, Washington, D.C. 20036. Superb color photographs fill this timeless tribute to wildlife. Some feature-length articles are by writers as young as 8, working with their parents or other adults as co-authors. The many games and crafts enhance, in simple yet revealing ways, one's understanding of the natural products they use.

Sesame Street. Age range up to 6; 10 issues, $8.95; Box 2896, Boulder, Colo. 80322. The Electric Company. Age range 6-12; 10 issues, $8.98; 200 Watt Street, PO Box 2923, Boulder, Colo. 80321. Both of these magazines are participatory versions of the deservedly popular television shows from which they derive. Sesame Street includes Spanish translations and extensive suggestions, page by page, for parent involvement.

3-2-1 CONTACT. Age range 8-14; 10 issues, $9.95; E-MC Square, PO Box 2931, Boulder, Colo. 80321. A science magazine featuring the processes of exploration and problem-solving of ecological and consumer issues. Safe experimental projects using materials readily found around the home are described in each issue. ''Profiles,'' a regular biographical feature, introduces readers to a potentially rewarding habit of reading biographies. Writing options inlude: ''Timeline,'' a history of various machines or gadgets, and ''Polls and Quizzes, '' which invites thoughts of readers on such subjects as solving the energy crisis.

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