Better Than the Comics—A Newspaper Page for Kids That Adults Like, Too

By Mike Feinsilber

The uvala, patella, umbilicus, and philtrum—these are body parts and you have them. If you don’t know about them, you haven’t been reading KidsPost.

KidsPost is in the Washington Post and, as far as the Post knows, it is the only daily section of its kind in any of the nation’s general newspapers. The Detroit News and the Detroit Free Press have Yak’s Corner and lots of papers run a syndicated feature called Mini Page, but those appear weekly. KidsPost runs as a four-page tabloid section on Sunday and a half-page of the Post Monday through Thursday. It’s for kids between 7 and 13. It keeps stories short in keeping with kids’ attention span.

And its choice of topics is as free-ranging as a kid’s curiosity. Recent articles:

*What it’s like to be a national park ranger (written by Ann Posegate, a park ranger.)

*What is the fiscal cliff? (Sample sentence: “Right now, the U.S. government is borrowing A LOT of money: $1.1 trillion last year! Can you figure out how many zeros that number has?)”

*The effort to protect white lions (they are blond and almost extinct).

*The kids who were aboard when the Titanic went down. (When that KidsPost story got to the internet, an adult commented: “Let’s see, kids were terrified. Kids lost their fathers and their mothers. The whole event was highly traumatic. And you want little kids to read this stuff?….Kids are going to have nightmares. And, some of them are going to be so fearful, they are going to have to see shrinks.”)

*The National Football League draft and why it is not as important as it is cracked up to be.

*Crimea: where it is, who lives there, why Russia wanted it, why some people think it is not okay for Russia to take over Crimea.

And just about anything else a kid might wonder about.

“We get ideas from kids, parents, teachers, school systems, fellow reporters, public relations people,” says Christina Barron, editor of KidsPost, in an email interview. “We try to use words kids understand, or define those we think they don’t. We stay away from stories that parents wouldn’t want their 8-year-old discovering at the breakfast table. But we occasionally feature serious subjects.”

Barron, 47, joined the Post 13 years ago—she previously worked at the Washington Times, as a free-lancer for Europe magazine, at United Press International, the Montgomery Journal in suburban Maryland and the Alexandria (Va.) Gazette Packet. She grew up in northern Virginia, studied English and French at Vanderbilt, and earned a master’s in international affairs at George Washington University.

“My three children and their friends have been terrific sounding boards for story ideas and language questions,” she says. “They’re brutally honest.”

KidsPost runs pictures of kids in the weeks they celebrate birthdays. It runs kids’ art to illustrate the weather forecast and photos kids take. It runs quizzes and contests. This year’s poetry contest drew poems from 900 youngsters.( One of the winning poems, by Christina Poulin, 10, begins this way: My temper is a lion/It always is ferocious/Tearing apart its prey/And sometimes is atrocious.)

To get the input of a KidsPost reader, I asked Julia, age 9, the daughter of friends what she thinks of it. She likes it, but is not a constant reader.  She says she reads the comics first. She says she never discusses what she’s read in KidsPost with friend .

“Mostly I understand all of the words and language on the page,” said Julia. “Some articles catch my interest and some don’t. Sports articles, animal articles, and poem contests interest me the most.”

Julia said she’d like to see more articles about sports figures and their lives and would also like more games like “Second Glance,” a feature in the Post’s Sunday magazine. Two versions of the same picture appear. Some items are missing from one of them. Readers are asked to figure out what’s different.

Julia is a KidsPost participant. She entered a poem contest (but didn’t win) and sent in her photo for the birthdays bows.

All in all, she sounds like a satisfied reader.
Barron says a piece she did on the video game Minecraft was the most popular she’d ever written. “Kids don’t seem to tire of that game,” she said.

Barron’s experience differs from that of Fred Bowen, who over 14 years has written more than 700 columns about sports for KidsPost. “I have to admit that no one in my family is a devoted reader of the column,” Bowen says. “I suspect they are used to hearing my opinions on many subjects.”

Bowen, 60, a native of Marblehead, Mass., moved to Washington to go to law school at George Washington University, then worked as a lawyer, mostly with the federal government, for 30 years. He has published 19 sports books for youngsters; his 20th, Double Reverse, will come out in August and he is working on another, about soccer. Bowen writes clearly, plainly, without sports jargon.

His son, Liam, 30, married and the father of a 5-month-old girl, is the pitching coach at the University of Maryland/Baltimore County; his daughter will move to Denver this summer in pursuit of a masters degree to become a teacher and reading specialist.

“I’ve been a big sports fan since I was a kid,” Bowen says. “My best childhood memories are from playing Little League in the park and basketball on the playground. I can still remember home runs, bad calls, and great comebacks from those games.”

Lots surrounding sports is not pleasant, but Bowen doesn’t duck. He sees in sports an opportunity to tell kids that “just because someone is good at a sport does not necessarily make them a good person.” So he has written about steroids, cheating, yelling at referees, bullying, and more.
Bowen says he has been delighted by how many adults read his column. “I find that many adults (often moms) appreciate that I explain what is going on in sports and that I write from a perspective that is different than other sports columnists.”
Bowen leaves body parts to Howard J. Bennett, a Washington pediatrician who writes for KidsPost on topics such as: why people have fingernails, earwax, why babies drool, why people fart, burp, stink and get scabs. He also writes the Life Is Gross column for Jack and Jill magazine.

One of Dr. Bennett’s KidsPost columns was devoted to the real names of body parts. Nothing in it would make a parent snatch the paper away or make a kid squirm.

The uvula, he reported, is “the fleshy pink tissue that hangs from the roof of your mouth.” The patella “protects your knee when you bend your leg….It’s your kneecap.” The umbilicus is the belly button. And the philtrum is the indent in your skin between your nose and the middle of your upper lip. Dr. Bennett asserts its purpose in animals is to help keep their noses moist but for humans “it doesn’t do anything except collect snot in the youngest members of our species.”

That assertion drew a dissent from Nancy Mallin, a lactation consultant for the Breastfeeding Center for Greater Washington. “That little groove helps babies breastfeed,” Ms. Mallin asserted in a letter to the Free for All page of the Washington Post. “It is no coincidence that a mother’s nipple lands right on that groove as the breast goes in the baby’s mouth.”
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Mike Feinsilber, a reporter and editor for United Press International and the Associated Press for more than 50 years, is a regular reader of KidsPost. He says he learns stuff there that the rest of the paper doesn’t tell him.

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