Family Fun

In one of the few missteps in his 30-plus years of fatherhood, my dad decided the best way to curry favor with the grandkids over the long weekend was to buy them recorders. "They'll get bored with them in 15 minutes -- just you watch," he said, even as it became clear that we were in for four days of infernal, atonal tooting. It got so bad that my little sister furtively tucked away the offending instruments in the back of a cabinet, prompting a search-and-rescue effort of the sort seen on documentaries about the Donner party.

To recap: my dad nuked any possibility of aural tranquility and my sister hid a toy from a three-year-old. I'm not entirely unhappy to be back at my desk about now.

I don't think we'd have done much better with a copy of the June issue of Family Fun in hand, though. We Dobrows aren't exactly a cerebral and inventive lot, as the weekend proved once anew. We're more inclined to drool our way through an eight-hour block of Noggin fare than construct miniature replicas of the Intrepid out of Popsicle sticks and gum. And we sure do dig our brands: My niece wants to be either a princess or a genie when she grows up, meaning that we will single-handedly drive Disney's profits over the next decade.

Family Fun, however, has less in common with its critter-celebrating Disney Publishing siblings than it does Child or Parenting. The mag is proudly anti-consumerism, favoring crafts projects and healthy recipes over plugs for "The Little Mermaid 3: Ariel Takes the PSAT." A parent who takes every one of the June issue's suggestions to heart will have enough fodder to occupy his or her child through the entire summer.

Me, I think most of the proposed activities are silly and dull, less likely to fire a child's imagination than to send him careening towards a delinquent tweenhood of slingshots and "High School Musical." I can't think of a better way to attract the attention of the child-welfare authorities than by dressing up kids in newspaper "costumes." I don't believe that a dragon cake gives a medieval-themed birthday party the same authenticity that a double-barreled Valkyrie flintlock might. I suspect that the game involving "five tongue depressors, each one marked with a color of the rainbow" might be better suited for bachelorette parties.

Family Fun labors under the impression that non-entertaining activities (shopping for vegetables! printing out travel activities!) will delight and enlighten the ADD set. It sucks the fun out of vacations (a North Dakota trek in covered wagons driven by "experienced teamsters") and backyard mainstays (paper targets for water fights?) alike. On its list of "Gifts Teachers Really Want," the mag proposes a "feel-good flip book," as opposed to a pint of Coty Wild Musk. And it doesn't entirely duck the magazine world's product fixation, flagging a "Songs For the Coolest Kids" CD (Little Jimmy's totally going to revel in the haughty eclecticism that is the Arcade Fire).

Whatever personal issues I might have with the content, though, I can't help but admire the way Family Fun presents it. Nearly all of the stories are broken up into easily digestible two- or three-paragraph chunks, which facilitate consumption by oft-interrupted parents. The mag sprinkles in a host of illustrations among its smiling-kiddie pix and sticks to a bright green/orange/blue color scheme. Some of the sidebars stray into extraneous territory -- like the one on tubing technique, which advises all participants to, you know, float -- but most add welcome perspective, informationally and graphically.

My issues with Family Fun largely stem from my own happy memories of a mindless and carefree childhood. Rock necklaces, Mexican yarn craft... whatever happened to running around like a hooligan in the backyard? For those parents eager to provide structure and substance, Family Fun should prove an invaluable resource during the summer months ahead. Lotsa folks will love this magazine; I'm just not one of them.

Published by: Disney Publishing Worldwide
Frequency: 10 issues per year
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