ENCOURAGING kids to read can be trickier than ever these days. Ask a 7-year-old to turn off the TV long enough to pick up a new book from the library, and she might consider reading to be punishment, not pleasure.
Tell a 12-year-old that the book his class is reading, "The Secret Garden," was one of your favorites, and he'll eye it with suspicion. Could be like asparagus, he figures: Something you enjoy that he can't choke down, partly because it's supposed to be good for him.
So how do you nudge without nagging? Try magazines. Kids love getting mail, and many of the magazines available today can entertain even the most reluctant reader. Now is the time of year to order holiday gift subscriptions -- a great way to take care of the grandchildren and nieces and nephews on your list. Many local libraries have reference copies of kids' magazines, if you want to browse before ordering. Here are some suggestions.
* Stone Soup, the magazine by children (ages 9-13). Founded in 1973, this is a literary magazine that publishes stories, book reviews, poems and art by children through age 13. Adults will be astonished by the quality and creativity, and kids are inspired to work on stories and art of their own after seeing what other kids their age can do.
The September/October issue features superb linocut prints by East German children, ages 9 and 10. My favorite story was "The Kid Who Loved Baseball," which begins: "Once there was a boy named Michael J. Cangelosi. He loved, and I mean he just loved, baseball. You could tell by the number of baseball cards he had. He had about three thousand four hundred fifty-six. In fact, he had more baseball cards than any boy in the city of Cleveland, Ohio."
Michael goes on to tell the story of how he flubbed his first practice for the youth baseball team. But the coach works with him, and it pays off. In the team's first game, Michael hits a grand slam and makes the game-saving catch at shortstop.
Each issue, printed on high-quality paper, includes two pages of suggestions that parents and teachers might want to use to help readers write their own stories and create their own artwork. Contributions to Stone Soup are encouraged, and the editors say they respond within four weeks to all submissions.
Stone Soup is published five times a year by the Children's Art Foundation, P.O. Box 83, Santa Cruz, Calif. 95063. Rates are $22 for one year, $38 for two years and $52 for three years. For more information, call 1-800-447-4569.
* Cricket, the magazine for children (ages 6-14). Cricket has something for just about everyone: short stories, cartoons, adventure stories based on real experiences, puzzles, science and nature projects, and contributions by well-known authors and illustrators of children's books.
The September issue also included entry information for a story contest, and it printed the winners of the summer poetry contest. Plus, they published 18 letters from readers last month.
A subscription for 12 monthly issues is $29.97 (some bookstores carry individual copies for $2.95). To order, call 1-800-284-7257, Ext. 4C.
* Ladybug, the magazine for young children (ages 2-7). Published by the same folks who put out Cricket, this made its debut in September. A monthly feature will be the series "Tom and Pippo," written and illustrated by Helen Oxenbury.
The full-page artwork, simple games, cartoons and poems will keep younger kids intrigued for 15 to 20 minutes at a stretch, as long as parents share it with them. Subscriptions (12 issues) are $29.97. To order, call 1-800-284-7257, Ext. 4L.
* Sesame Street Magazine (ages 2-6). No preschooler seems to get enough of Bert and Ernie, so here's a way to pull her away from the TV long enough to read stories starring her favorite characters. The October issue includes a story mom or dad can read about finding clouds shaped like turtles and trains and alligators.
There are several puzzles based on identifying shapes, plus a game about shadows that kids can cut out. A one-year (10 issues) subscription is $14.97. Mail to Sesame Street Magazine, P.O. Box 52000, Boulder, Colo. 80321-2000 or call 212-595-3456.
Every issue of Sesame Street comes with a Parent's Guide that includes an advice column, kids' book reviews and articles on health and safety. October's 54-page issue also had advice on building kids' self-esteem and encouraging fantasy.
* NEXT WEEK: Reviews of more magazines, including Sports Illustrated for Kids and Zillions.