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How a two year-old nailed the power of magazines for literacy in four words

by John Mennell

Steve Blank – author of Four Steps to the Epiphany – is credited with launching the lean start-up movement, further evangelized by Eric Ries, Beth Kanter, and others.  A commandment of Blank’s “Customer Development” model is to “get out of the building” to discover, understand, and iterate toward the true nature of the relationship between your customers and your product or service.

At we have foundational ideas about the special and enormous power of magazines for literacy, validated by the many testimonials we receive from literacy programs.  The holidays are the perfect opportunity to spend time with friends and family and to “get out of the building” to experience reading with others first-hand.

While reading bedtime stories to a two year-old from Highlights’ Hello magazine and recalling similar stories in Cobblestone’s Baby Bug, it occurred to me that, on the media content spectrum, these periodicals are indistinguishable from books at this preschool reading age – but their power is multiplied by monthly arrival in hands and homes  with fresh stories and illustrations throughout the entire year.  I also realized that, from the vantage point of a two year-old, they are long-form storytelling.

The next day, I was catching up on some magazine reading myself with Brad Stone’s The Secrets of Bezos: How Amazon Became the Everything Store in Bloomberg Businessweek, and was awestruck when the two year-old turned to me and uttered “what are you reading?”

In that instant, in the wide eyes and formative mind of a fellow reader and world citizen, I saw a bright fiber optic thread coursing through Hello, Baby Bug, and Bloomberg Businessweek magazines. It underscored for me the importance of “getting out of the building” and into the field with magazine readers of all ages – to discover and understand how to best build upon our magnificent literacy work.  It also illustrated the power of magazines in the “home literacy environment (HLE)” to create positive impressions for young people that will contribute to formation of reading as a habit.

Our mantra is “make literacy happen.”  Our mission is to share favorite magazines with at-risk readers who want to learn and love to read.

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  • Crittenton Women’s Union

    501(c)(3) Charity
    Boston, MA
    Serving Mothers from age 19-40 and children from infant to 5 years old. Most of the children are between 1 and 2.5 years of age.
    Needs: New or recycled magazines for 58 mother and 52 children.
    Magazines Requested: Magazines appropriate for children and toddlers. Magazines about nature, fashion, beauty, exercise. African American specific and Latina specific magazines. Any general women’s interest magazines.

  • Senior Star Adult Medical Daycare

    Mentoring, Job Training, and Education
    100 people age 50 and older and 50 people age 21-40
    Ewing, NJ, USA
    Needs: 180 Magazines
    Magazines Requested: culinary skills magazines (30), home magazines (30), computer magazines (30), learning magazines (30), and entertainment magazines (50)

  • Maryland Correctional Institution–Jessup (MCIJ)

    School or Library
    Jessup, Maryland
    Serving male adults 18-60 years of age. From pre-literacy to varying reading levels.
    Needs magazines for 30 students monthly
    Magazines Requested: Students enjoy nonfiction magazines with lots of pictures and short articles–this would include magazines about animals, geography, science, food, clothing, anything relevant to today’s world. National Geographic for Kids would be wonderful.

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