Driving down a New Hampshire country road not long ago, the adults were all but overcome by the flame-, pumpkin-, and sunflower-colored leaves of the sugar maples. But the 10-year-old boy in the back seat had something else in mind.
It wasn't the Cortland apple he had just freshly picked for himself in an upland orchard - and now held unbitten in his left hand. Or the cassette player the hand rested on, primed as it was with a books-on-tape adventure story.
The object of his scrutiny was a rainbow colored, art-postcard-shaped, shiny, stiff-backed magazine called Magic Window. The right size to hold open with a 10-year-old hand. The right sparks of color to hold the attention of a 10-year-old boy or girl.
``It's staggering,'' says Jerry Hoffman, publisher, speaking of the response to this new monthly children's magazine.
Broadly aimed at six- to 12-year-olds, Magic Window incorporates 96 small-size, four- or two-color pages, bursting with items of interest.
There's fiction, science features, craft ideas, computer programming (Apple II), an advice column, reviews, poetry, jokes and riddles, letters to the editor, travelogues, puzzles (like crosswords, ``Look for These Hidden Objects!,'' and ``What's Wrong Here?''), and pictures for coloring.
In one issue an article, called ``Out of This World - on Earth! U.S. Space Camp,'' begins: ``Space Camp? Bet you thought that was just the name of a movie! But there really is a U.S. Space Camp, a unique program for teaching young would-be astronauts the realities of living and working in space.''
Another article, ``Mystery among the Flowers: Can Kris figure out the answer?'' starts: ``Kris held the delicate green stem. She muttered, `Sorry,' and broke it in two.
``The stem was square, not round. The plant had tiny lavender flowers. Kris rubbed the leaves. A strong fragrance confirmed what she suspected. ```Wild mint,' she wrote in her notebook. `June 7, near pond, Mrs. Astor's estate.'''
Departments in the magazine include ``That's Entertainment,'' ``Where Things Come From,'' ``Across the U.S.A.,'' ``Natural Wonders,'' and ``Things People Do.''
``Magic Window is unique because of the comprehensive editorial format,'' says Mr. Hoffman. ``If a child can read at all, he'll find at least three articles he'll like in each issue. If someone's a slow learner - all the way to the computer kid - we feel Magic Window has something to offer. It's a real package for everybody.
``The diversity of subjects encourages reading,'' Hoffman adds. ``We provide children with so many subjects to read - and through the articles encourage them to pursue other interests, too. We avoid controversy: sex, violence, drugs, and alcohol. We're for fun - and education.
``Since we're encouraging reading, we don't have an extension of our product into the media.''
The 10-year-old boy who was enjoying Magic Window in the back of that car was unwittingly casting his vote in favor of it. But some experts in the field of children's literature have dissented.
For example, staff members of the Center for the Study of Children's Literature at Simmons College, Boston, reviewed Magic Window and raised questions about the magazine's literary quality and appropriateness for its target audience. ``I don't like Magic Window in comparison with some other children's magazines we use - Calliope, Cobblestone, Faces, and Cricket,'' says Cathie Mercier, assistant director of the center.
``It doesn't seem challenging. By catering to such a large age group, Magic Window has to hit the lowest common denominator. It aims at too ambitious a span and might do better for just seven- through nine-year-olds. It's a little condescending for a 12-year-old.
``Magic Window seems too concerned with entertainment,'' Ms. Mercier continues. ``It has good entertainment value, but I wanted more. ``Also, the magazine's advisory board doesn't seem to have adequate representation from experts in children's literature.''
On the market for less than a year, Magic Window will go into national distribution this winter - not only through subscription, but also through supermarket sales. According to Hoffman, 52 percent of single-copy magazine sales are in supermarkets, but children's magazines are poorly represented there. So he's optimistic about his market and hopes to break even a year from now.
Slowly the boy in the car bit into his Cortland, keeping the copy of Magic Window squeezed open all the time with his right hand. The temptation of the tape recorder was forgotten for the magic of the printed word.
For information, write Magic Window, Box 23240, Minneapolis, MN 55423.