Marianne Carus with the one hundredth issue of <em>Cricket</em> magazine, March 1982

Marianne Carus with the one hundredth issue of Cricket magazine, March 1982

Marianne Carus


Marianne Carus is the founder of Cricket magazine for children and young adults. Building on her success with Cricket, Carus managed to create a new niche market for children’s literary magazines in the United States, eventually launching four more magazines aimed at different age groups.


“The way to create in children a love of reading and an appreciation of good writing is to offer them beautifully illustrated, lively, well-written, interesting stories, sustaining a witty tone and a sense of humor. I am convinced that children will respond to quality if it’s not forced upon them, but presented in an engaging manner.”[1] This conviction led Marianne Carus (born June 16, 1928 in Dieringhausen, Germany) to found, in 1973, Cricket magazine for children and young adults—a publication that would be called the New Yorker of children’s literature, receive dozens of awards and continue to have a loyal following to this day. In founding Cricket, Carus filled a gap in children’s publishing that existed at the time in the United States—a literary magazine for kids. Encouraged by the magazine’s enthusiastic reception, Marianne would later add another four magazines, each aimed at a different age group: Ladybug, Spider, Babybug, and Cicada. She would launch Ask, Muse, and Click in collaboration with the Smithsonian. Marianne was also publisher and editor in chief of Cricket Books, publishing mostly fiction for children from six to twelve years of age. To ensure the quality of her publications, she sought out the works of distinguished contemporary (and past) authors and illustrators. They were established writers but also new, talented young authors and artists for whom Marianne created a market, introducing them into the field.

Family and Ethnic Background

Marianne Carus, née Sondermann, was born in Dieringhausen, North Rhine-Westphalia, on June 16, 1928, just before the Great Depression. She grew up in nearby Gummersbach. The Sondermanns of the nineteenth century had mostly been textile industrialists and doctors. Marianne’s mother, Elizabeth Gesell Sondermann (1889-1970) was a nurse and her father, Günter Wilhelm Alexander Sondermann (1898-1984) was an eye doctor and surgeon. Richard Sondermann, her grandfather, had also been an eye doctor and surgeon and wanted Marianne to go into the sciences. She remembers:

So I was always interested in that profession [ophthalmology], but not enough to pursue it as my main profession for my whole life, because I was more interested in books. And I think this must have been coming from my father, but somehow [also] from my mother who was constantly reading books. My father had a huge collection, thousands and thousands of books. And he was extremely interested in all the great writers, and in almost every subject matter: in science as well as in traffic as well as in literature of any kind. So I saw these books standing there and I saw my parents reading all the time, so of course I was interested in books. And because German is so phonetic and so easy to learn to read, I learned it when I was four.[2]

A sister, Inge (born June 21, 1924), is four years older than Marianne. The girls should have enjoyed the secure lifestyle of children born into a professional, middle-class family. Their childhood, however, was darkened by World War II, which started when Marianne was eleven years old. When she was fifteen, in 1944, her high school class was sent to the western front, where the girls had to prepare food for the boys whose work it was to help the soldiers dig trenches. Marianne remembers mainly having to peel potatoes. While retreating from one battle site to another, the young people were often strafed by U.S. and allied planes. Marianne survived this ordeal for five months. Because students could not attend class during this period of service, they were admitted on their return to an accelerated program at the Gummersbach Gymnasium (secondary school).

At the end of this program, Marianne took and passed the Abitur, the final exam that qualified her to go to university. She studied philosophy and English, American, and German literature at the University of Freiburg and then later French literature at the Sorbonne in Paris. After her arrival in the United States, she studied art history and German literature at the University of Chicago. About her time at the University of Freiburg, Carus says:

Heidegger was of course the big professor in Freiburg. Only the upper semesters were allowed to listen to him. I listened to quite a few of his students—Max Müller was one of them. I found the history of German literature very interesting and enjoyed that very much. We also had to take classes in some other subject matter so we would not just concentrate on literature. I also attended classes on religion, and several history courses…we had to have, they called it, studium generale. General studies.[3]

In 1949 Marianne met a German-American named Milton Blouke Carus (born June 15, 1927) at the University of Freiburg where they were fellow students. Blouke had already graduated from Caltech with a BS in electrical engineering and was now enrolled in chemistry. A concert at the church of St. Johann—Bach’s mass in B minor—was their first date. (“We still love Bach’s work, we love it all!” Marianne notes fondly sixty-four years later.[4]) In 1950, Blouke was summoned back to the United States to work in the family business Carus Chemical. Although Marianne had promised her father to earn her doctoral degree before marrying, the couple tied the knot in March 1951 and moved to LaSalle, a small town in Illinois of about 12,000 inhabitants at the time.[5]

While Marianne’s first impression of the United States was less favorable (“I was sort of amazed at New York . . . I thought people were emptying their wastebaskets out of their windows. Because papers were all over the streets. And there was no one place where they could be collected, they were just floating around”[6]),she immediately felt welcome when she moved to Illinois. The Caruses renovated a small stone house, and Marianne gave birth to their first child, André, on June 24, 1953. The birth of two daughters followed—Christine on October 5, 1958, and Inga on January 21, 1959.

The Carus/Hegeler Family

Blouke’s family’s fortune had been established by Edward Carl Hegeler, his great-grandfather. In 1857 the German-born Hegeler with his German partner and friend, Frederick Matthiessen, founded a zinc-smelting business which became very successful due mainly to the growing need for zinc and the improved manufacturing technique used by Hegeler’s factory. When the Civil War broke out in 1861, zinc became essential for the manufacture of armaments, and by 1880, Hegeler owned the largest zinc company in the country.

Hegeler was deeply interested in the humanities as well as in the sciences. To foster these interests, he started the Open Court Publishing Company in 1887, publishing articles on philosophy, science, world religions, and related academic subjects. He also published two academic journals: The Open Court, which “advocat[ed] morals and rational religious thought on the firm basis of Science [sic],” and The Monist, a philosophy journal still published today.[7]

In early 1887, Hegeler invited another German, Paul Carus, to LaSalle to help educate his children in the classics, and to assist with the fledgling publishing company. Paul had attended the universities of Greifswald, Strasbourg, and Tübingen during the 1870s. He became exposed to scientific ideas that conflicted with the Christian dogmas of the time. Paul became convinced that all disciplines, including theology, should be studied using scientific methods and began looking for ways to combine religious and scientific principles. Because of his liberal views on religion and politics, he eventually left Germany in search of a more congenial atmosphere in which to develop his ideas. He went to England where he learned to read and speak English. Paul then decided that the United States would be more receptive to his philosophy. In early 1887, Edward Hegeler invited Paul Carus to come work with him as an editor at Open Court Publishing Company.[8] Paul fell in love with Hegeler’s daughter Mary and married her in 1888. For Open Court he was an important link to scholars and authors in Europe. He published roughly five hundred books in the fields of philosophy, world religions, mathematics, and the sciences, and authored over seventy books and one thousand articles. His 1894 book The Gospel of Buddha became a bestseller.[9] It was translated into ten different languages and sold three million copies. After Paul’s death, his daughter Elizabeth Carus took over Open Court Publishing.

Blouke’s father, Edward H. Carus, the oldest son of Paul Carus, started a potassium permanganate plant in LaSalle in 1915. The chemical is a strong oxidizing agent, used mainly in environmental clean-up. The Carus Chemical Company, now known as Carus Corporation, has become—according to the company website—the “world leader in permanganate, manganese, oxidation, catalyst and blended phosphate technologies.”[10] It is where Blouke began work in 1951.

Blouke’s forebears thus combined many talents. They had close contacts with famous authors, artists, philosophers, religious leaders, and business leaders. Their family seat, the Hegeler Carus mansion, designed by architect W. W. Boyington, has been an imposing landmark in LaSalle for over one hundred years. Many of its features are the result of German craftsmanship—the interior was designed by August Fiedler, a German-American architect and interior designer, whose work graced several important Chicago buildings of the late 1800s. The mansion’s plumbing and other utilitarian structures are outstanding for the durability and economy of the material they were made from. Its pipes, rainspouts, and flat roof were all made of zinc and did not rust. Many of the mansion’s features demonstrated unusually advanced technology for 1874 when it was being built; these include indoor plumbing, a hot-air heating system, and a speaker-tube system that served as an intercom. By the time Blouke and Marianne Carus got married, most of the family members had left the mansion and the home was deteriorating. In the 1990s, the Carus family began restoring the mansion to its original condition. Today it hosts public events, is listed on the National Register of Historic Places and is being preserved as an historical monument by the Hegeler Carus Foundation.

The guests that were entertained in the mansion over the years exemplified the eclectic social tastes and interests of the Caruses/Hegelers. These ranged from tycoons who were business friends of the family to scientists, poets, scholars, and philosophers. Many of them wrote books and articles for Open Court Publishing. One such guest, Peter Matthiessen, represented both a business and a literary connection. He was the well-known writer of novels and nature essays and the great-grandson of Edward Hegeler’s zinc manufacturing partner Frederick Matthiessen. Besides celebrities, the Carus social circle included extended family members and long-standing LaSalle neighbors. Marianne’s marriage to Blouke thus strengthened Marianne’s upper middle class status and gave her access to intellectual circles in the United States.

Business Development: Open Court Basic Readers

It was their son André’s early school experiences that would thrust Marianne and Blouke into a new and engrossing interest—the education of young people. André started school in Germany during a long family visit there in 1959 and learned to read from books with “real stories, plots, ideas, and a real vocabulary.”[11] Upon returning to the United States, Marianne and Blouke—the latter of whom had himself attended the Berthold-Gymnasium in Freiburg, Germany for one year in 1939—were shocked when they saw the reading texts offered at his LaSalle school. Marianne remembers:

[André] came home with a great big pile of books like this, and we looked at them, and we were just horrified. There was nothing, nothing at all in these books that was worth reading. There was a picture of the sun, and then it said “sun.” And there was a picture of the moon, and so on and so on and so on. And then there were the Dick and Jane readers of course. “Look, look, look.” You had to repeat a word so and so often in order to get the kids accustomed to the shape of these words and in order to be able to decipher them. That of course was absolutely ridiculous.[12]

Like his ancestors, Blouke combined both scientific and cultural interests. His cultural interests prompted him to take up educational reform, and he soon enlisted his wife in this campaign. He began to painstakingly develop a phonics system from techniques used by master teachers, such as Mildred McGinnis, a teacher and speech therapist who taught aphasic children how to speak and then read at the Central Institute for the Deaf in St. Louis, Missouri. The Caruses were also influenced by thinkers like Rudolph Flesch, a readability expert, who criticized the “look-say” method of teaching in his book Why Johnny Can’t Read: And What You Can Do about It, published in 1955. The practitioners of the “look-say” method expected children to learn to read by memorizing the shape of each new word they encountered instead of by sounding it out with the use of phonics. The proponents of phonics believed that once children knew what a word sounded like, they would recognize it as a word they had already heard and used frequently.

Marianne remembers the early days:

[Blouke] asked me to help him get good content. Because I was interested in literature, and we had three small children whom we read to a lot. So I looked for the best stories and for the best poems and for the best little articles that I could find. And I became more and more part of the people who worked on those readers. And I also edited the stories that other people sent in, and shortened a lot of good material. That was also part of my business when we got into the higher grades.[13]

Gradually the Caruses developed their unconventional reading and language arts program. Educators, publishers, artists, and children’s writers became their acquaintances and colleagues. This valuable network Marianne would eventually draw on years later when founding Cricket and her other magazines for children and adolescents.

In 1963, Marianne and Blouke published the Open Court Basic Readers for grades 1-3, resolving to provide books that both motivated and interested children and used sound pedagogical methods to teach them. They were committed to bringing together the best writing, a phonics-based approach to reading, and a multisensory experience combining seeing, hearing, speaking, and writing.[14] They found that changing the educational status quo was uphill work. But although the U.S. educational system as a whole was slow to adopt the new readers, many important school boards began to use them. More and more educators became interested in employing intensive phonics to teach reading, and nearly forty years after the series’ inception, an estimated total of two to three million children had used the Open Court Readers.[15]

Teachers asked Marianne and Blouke for more high-quality literature for children, but in a shorter format. While researching old readers, Marianne got the idea of starting a children’s magazine—a magazine that published literature and art produced by the best contemporary writers, poets, and artists to introduce children to good literature outside the realm of school books. At the time approximately eighty-five children’s magazines were already on the market, Marianne remembers. “People told us we were lunatics. We were quite na&#239;ve.”[16] When she explored the market, however, she discovered that there was not one literary children’s magazine among all those being published. The one exception, Children’s Digest, did not publish original stories but excerpts of already published literature. Marianne, however, wanted to present her readers with original material. She found the stories in the existing magazines “dull, mostly staff written, the illustrations mediocre.”[17] At least one critic agreed, lamenting how “all of [these other magazines] obviously come from city offices full of editors and scissors and paste.”[18]

The Children’s Magazine Market in the early 1970s

The first periodical expressly for children, The Children’s Magazine, appeared in 1789 in Connecticut. It strived to feature “an abridgement of geography” along with “instructive essays on morality, religion, manners” and “familiar letters, dialogues and select pieces of poetry” but its success was short lived.[19] Over the next two hundred years, several children’s magazines would come and go. One of the more renowned publications was St. Nicholas, a high-quality children’s magazine that first appeared in 1873.[20] Mary Mapes Dodge, the author of Hans Brinker; or the Silver Skates, was its original editor. She was highly regarded for her editing abilities and talent to secure well-known contributors. St. Nicholas became the model on which Marianne would base her own magazine nearly four decades after the former ceased publication.

In addition to Children’s Digest, founded in 1950, other big-name competitors on the market in the early 1970s included Boys’ Life, founded in 1911; Jack and Jill, founded in 1938; Highlights for Children, founded in 1946; Humpty Dumpty’s, founded in 1952; Ranger Rick’s Nature Magazine, founded in 1967; and Sesame Street Magazine, founded in 1971. In 1973, Ebony Jr! and Stone Soup would be launched as well.[21] The magazines were similar in content to a certain extent—featuring fiction, non-fiction, games, puzzles, competitions—but also differed greatly, e.g. in terms of subject matter, which focused on anything from health and science to creative projects and the development of reading skills. They also differed in terms of addressed age group and intended audience (e.g. boys, African Americans). Several of these magazines had grown out of existing magazines for adults (e.g. Ebony Jr!).

In a comprehensive study of the market for children’s literature in the 1970s, Judith S. Duke details how in 1975 the children’s literature industry is estimated to have totaled between $404 and $409 million, with the share of children’s magazines accounting for 19 percent.[22] She also outlines how several larger developments in U.S. society did not form a necessarily conducive environment for yet another children’s magazine in the early 1970s. Birth rates had been on a steady decline for ten years—fewer babies would mean fewer young readers down the line.[23] Also, with the increasing prominence of TV in U.S. households post mid-century, reading habits were bound to change as television became a “tremendous competitor for children’s leisure time.”[24] Last but not least, the 1973 recession brought a surge in unemployment and thus less discretionary income to spend on purchases like magazine subscriptions.

Cricket’s Beginnings

Although Marianne was a newcomer to the world of magazine publishing, she had an entrepreneur’s instinct for identifying a need and finding the best way to fill that need. She knew that she was not the only parent who wanted to provide cultural enrichment for her children. Therefore, she believed that a good market existed for a quality children’s magazine. Being a novice publisher, however, she needed knowledgeable advisors and a capable staff to help her. Fortunately, her work on the Open Court Readers had given her a good reputation in the world of education and opened up a network of experts to her. She proudly remembers:

We didn’t have a board at first, but we created one. And there were some people on our board, for example, there was Clifton Fadiman, who was a member of the general board because he was also very interested in education. And he was extremely interested in starting a magazine when we said we wanted to do that. Oh, he said, that’s fabulous, I can help you out with that. And he was very enthusiastic, jumping up and down . . . And I heard Lloyd, Lloyd Alexander, and I loved that guy right from the beginning. And we asked him after his talk: “Wouldn’t you be interested to be on the board of a new, good children’s literature magazine?” And he said oh, fantastic. And he heard Kip’s name – Clifton Fadiman’s name: “Oh my God, you have him on your side? Then it must be good.” You know? We got all the others.[25]

And thus, Marianne assembled a powerful editorial advisory board: Clifton Fadiman had been, among other things, book editor of the New Yorker, judge of the Book of the Month Club, and moderator of the radio quiz show Information, Please. Isaac Bashevis Singer, a world famous novelist and short story writer, had received the National Book Award for children’s literature in 1970 and would receive the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1978. Both men had written a number of books for young readers and believed that children should be exposed to the finest writing available. In his award-winning 1969 memoir about his own childhood called A Day of Pleasure, Singer described a cricket that lived behind his friend’s tile stove. “It chirped the nights through all winter long. I imagined that the cricket was telling a story that would never end.”[26] Marianne adopted Singer’s little cricket as the mascot of her magazine and named it after him.

Also on the board was Lloyd Alexander, the winner of the Newbery Medal, the Newbery Honor Award, and—later—the Boston Globe-Horn Book Award and the National Book Award. Perhaps the best known of the over forty novels he wrote are those in the series Chronicles of Prydain. Other board members included Eleanor Cameron, both an author and critic of children’s books; Sheila Egoff, the author of The Republic of Childhood; Virginia Haviland, head of the children’s section of the Library of Congress; Paul Heins, editor of the Horn Book Magazine; Walter Scherf, director of Munich’s International Youth Library; and Kaye Webb, founder and editor of Puffin Post, a British magazine for children.

The group held itsfirst meeting in November 1972 at Starved Rock Lodge in a local Illinois state park. Marianne asked Clifton Fadiman to be editor in chief of the magazine but he insisted that only Marianne could fill this position and took the role of senior editor instead. Fadiman’s credo thenceforth was, “There is no substitute for the written word and the well-drawn line. We want Cricket to act as a neutralizer against the cheap, the sensational and the violent.”[27]

Marianne formulated a list of goals, effectively Cricket’s mission statement:

  1. To create and market a monthly magazine that will introduce children of all ages to the best literature and art;
  2. To create in children a love of reading and an appreciation for good writing and illustration by sustaining a lively, witty, and cheerful tone and a sense of humor;
  3. To offer a great variety of subject matter for every interest and to maintain the highest possible literary standards in each of the genres represented;
  4. To introduce children to the basic values of our culture and create in them an appreciation for the arts, humanities, and sciences;
  5. To make children aware of other countries and other cultures and awaken their respect for other people and customs;
  6. To stimulate children’s imagination and sensibility, their sense of wonder and respect for nature and their environment;
  7. To respect children’s intelligence and to never talk down to them;
  8. To achieve these goals in a consistently businesslike way at a reasonable return on the resources invested.[28]

In order to predict how the reading public would receive their creation, Marianne assembled a pilot edition of Cricket to be sent to the media, literary critics, authors, illustrators, librarians, teachers, and the editorial advisory board members for their suggestions and criticisms. The pilot consisted of stories, an editorial page, a page for reader’s letters, and a section for their original writing. It included four stories never published before: Sid Fleischman sent a story from his as yet unpublished book “McBroom: The Rainmaker.” Nonny Hogrogian wrote and illustrated a story titled “The Unhappy King of Gargantak” just for the pilot. Isaac Bashevis Singer contributed a story titled “Why Noah Chose the Dove.” As an extra flourish, Charles Schultz, the Peanuts creator, contributed an illustrated greeting from Charlie Brown’s beagle Snoopy.

The rest of the reading selections were reprints of children’s stories and poems. A final section was called “Old Cricket Says,” where a member of the editorial staff addressed the readers in the character of a wise but playful old cricket. Clifton Fadiman wrote the first of these as “A Letter to All Young Crickets from an Old Cricket.” The pilot issue also featured one of the best-loved details of Cricket magazine—the gang of little creatures that artist Trina Schart Hyman scattered here and there in the page margins of the magazine. These include Cricket (of course); Fat Ladybug; George, the worm; Sluggo, the snail; and their nemesis Ugly Bird. An ant is called “Aunt Marianne.”[29] These characters make whimsical comments on the text and engage in little adventures. Since, at the time, printing in color was prohibitively expensive, the pilot and subsequent early editions of Cricket were black and white with only one color overlay. Later, when color became more affordable, Cricket (and its eventual “siblings”) could be printed in full color.

When the pilot came out in January 1973 it received enthusiastic reviews. One of the few complaints concerned the hand-lettered table of contents and titles. The critics pointed out that this kind of lettering was difficult to read and gave the magazine a homemade look. Marianne therefore hired a designer, John Grandits, to work on both the Open Court Readers and on Cricket. In 1979 he became the full-time art director for the magazine. By 1974 the editorial staff had increased from three people—Marianne, Clifton Fadiman, and Trina Schart Hyman—to six. The three additional members were Marcia Leonard, Charnon Simon, and Kathleen Leverich. Most of Marianne’s editors, artists, and designers were young and inexperienced, but they all had what she calls “judgment,” a feeling for what is good and honest in children’s literature. She wanted a staff that would honor the standards of the magazine, which Marianne sums up in the following quote from Walter de la Mare: “Only the rarest kind of best in anything can be good enough for the young.”[30] Authors—well-known writers with name recognition who submitted quality work—were paid more than four times the going industry rate per word (up to 25 cents per word versus 1 to 7 cents).[31]

The first subscription issue of Cricket appeared in September 1973. From then on, a new edition of the magazine appeared at first nine times, later twelve times per year. The subscription price for nine issues was $10, significantly more expensive than the competition (Highlights for Children $8, Children’s Digest $5.95, Sesame Street $5, Jack and Jill $6.95, Ranger Rick $6).[32] Among the reviews were also some skeptical voices. A writer in the Wall Street Journal wrote, “One of the few prospects less promising than launching a new literary magazine in this age of television is launching a new literary magazine for children. Anyone embarking on such a venture needs more than money and sheer nerve.”[33] Another one predicted that “Cricket is the kind of artsy, high-class publication that I imagine will be fairly short-lived. It will definitely become a collector’s item, when it does perish, because of its famous writers and illustrators.” [34] Nobody imagined that Cricket would go on to become the “‘New Yorker’ of kiddy lit—a glossy, witty, silly, surprisingly sophisticated little monthly considered by many to be the best children’s magazine in the world.”[35]The popular magazine featured various genres—fantasy, poetry, biography, fiction, non-fiction—and diverse topics ranging from history and science to sports, crafts, and much more. International folk tales exposed young readers to different cultures and traditions.[36]

Cricket’s Philosophy

Staff members were grateful for being given the chance to explore ways of teaching themselves as they entertained and taught the children that subscribed to Cricket. In a conversation printed in Celebrate Cricket: 30 Years of Stories and Art, Trina Schart Hyman, Cricket’s first art director, and John Grandits, Cricket’s first designer, discuss how working on Marianne’s magazines helped them realize the importance of art and the connection between art and education in general. Hyman expressed this idea as follows: “I believe that in educating kids you can learn anything you need to know about the world, including math and science, through art.” And she added that “[a]rt should make you ask questions, and it should make you think, and it should make you figure stuff out . . . It should make you question. Not just accept the norm.”[37]

So in addition to featuring original material by talented, and often famous, writers—among them Astrid Lindgren, T.S. Eliot, and Langston Hughes—what made Cricket stand out from the beginning was its imaginative and varied art accompanying the stories and gracing the covers. The Art Institute of Chicago even held an exhibition in 1999, entitled “Celebrating Cricket: 25 Years of Stories and Art for Kids” which displayed a number of the most striking cover illustrations of Cricket over the years. The exhibition included Trina Schart Hyman’s original front and back cover art of the first (September 1973) edition.

One of the most important traits that Marianne shared with her staff members was a sense of play. Often playfulness provides the energy that drives the production of an artwork or that sparks a connection between teacher and student. In her conversation with Grandits, Hyman recalls how she had brought a jar of live crickets to one of the first editorial board meetings, and, when she thought the members were becoming too philosophical and serious, she took the lid off the jar and all the crickets hopped out. With this prank, she meant to remind everyone that the magazine “was supposed to be for children and not an intellectual, stuffy learning experience.”[38]Hyman, of course, was the artist who started the tradition of scattering cartoons of little bugs and other creatures throughout the margins of the magazine. These tiny creatures all have their own personalities and embody the fun of learning that the magazine aims to promote.

Asked about which other qualities she deems essential for success, Marianne responds without blinking an eye, “Humor. It is extremely important to have a sense of humor, humor from the heart that makes you laugh out loud.”[39]

Marianne was never especially active in politics. Although her publications express strong social values, she put no political label on these values. She did not consider the subject matter for stories and illustrations in her publications to be especially broadminded; in her opinion they simply show the world in which her young readers live. However, Marianne’s magazines were considerably less narrow than other children’s publications during and after the 1960s and 1970s. Trina Schart Hyman, who had been an illustrator for Open Court Readers in the sixties before becoming art director of Cricket magazine, found working with the Caruses was like taking a breath of fresh air. Other textbook publishers that employed her restricted her work in ways that seemed absurd to her. “[T]he editors were crazy people,” she declares. “You couldn’t show navels, and in those days you couldn’t show a black child, everyone had to be white.”[40]

In her essay “In the Beginning,” Marcia Leonard, who was Cricket’s first editorial assistant, states that Marianne’s publications supported feminist views. Such views were common at the time, of course, but did not appear very often, if at all, in children’s stories. Nevertheless, according to Leonard,

Feminism played a part in the magazine, too. Marianne had carefully chosen selections for the pilot that reflected ethnic and gender diversity, but we were having a hard time finding stories with strong female characters for future issues. Almost all the manuscripts we received had male characters. Even the animals were males! We combed the library for reprint material, and Marianne wrote to authors requesting stories about girls, but it took quite a while for children’s literature to catch up with the rest of society.[41]

A Growing Magazine Network

The growing popularity of Cricket led Marianne to form a network with publishers abroad and create new magazines. In 1976, she and her staff began to publish Cricket in England under the name Cricket and Company. This venture, however, was not financially feasible. Even though reportedly over 45,000 people subscribed to Cricket and Company, the costs of marketing and putting out the magazine in another country strained Cricket’s budget.

In 1980 Marianne met Jacqueline Kergueno, who was an editorial director of children’s magazines at Bayard Press in France. Marianne, noting that Bayard Press published fourteen children’s magazines, felt inspired to bring out new magazines herself. She believed that aiming Cricket at a younger age range would help its sales. Up until this point, Cricket was barely breaking even. It was available by subscription for $15 per year (12 issues) or at bookstores for $1.50.[42] By choice, there were no advertisements—as in most other children’s magazines on the market as well.[43]

Originally Cricket was meant for young people between the ages of six to twelve. This meant that some selections had to be easy enough for the younger readers to understand, while others had to be challenging and interesting enough for the older ones to enjoy. Taking her cue from Bayard Press, Marianne began to plan Ladybug, a magazine for two to six-year-olds. It was the first of her magazines to be printed in full color, and made its debut in 1990.

Other magazines followed, all in full color. Spider for six to nine-year-olds came out in January 1994. The following September, Babybug, a magazine for babies and toddlers from six months to two years, appeared. It had non-toxic, thick, sturdy pages with rounded corners that were comfortable and safe for toddlers to handle. It offered simple stories and rhymes for the little ones’ parents to read aloud and colorful illustrations to look at. That same year, adolescents began to clamor for their own magazine. In 1998 Marianne finally obliged them by launching Cicada, a literary magazine for teenagers age fourteen and older. Children of all ages now had their own age-appropriate magazine.

In 1997 Cricket Publishing also branched into Cricket Books, which publishes novels for children and young adults. This division has won a number of awards, two of which are the 1999 Scott O’Dell Award for Historical Fiction[44] and the 2002 Mildred L. Batchelder Award for Translated Children’s Books.[45] Cricket and its “siblings” have won dozens of awards as well, perhaps most significantly making it to finalist in the 1983 National Magazine Awards.[46]

Marianne, Blouke, and their son André (who joined the business) also worked with the Smithsonian to put out three nonfiction magazines. Muse for nine to fourteen-year-olds appeared in 1996; Click for ages three to seven in 1998; and Ask for seven to ten-year-olds in 2002. In 2000, by acquiring the Cobblestone Group of nonfiction magazines, Marianne added several more publications meant for schools to supplement textbooks. Five of these were aimed at readers from nine to fourteen years of age: Cobblestone dealt with American history, Faces with anthropology, Dig with archaeology, Odyssey with science, and Calliope with world history. The sixth, a general interest magazine aimed at seven to nine-year-olds, was called Appleseeds.

The full overview, including brief descriptions as listed on the Cricket Magazine website and links to the individual magazines’ websites for children (almost all entirely ads-free), is as follows:[47]

  • BABYBUG (6 months – 3 years) is a board-book style magazine with nontoxic ink, rounded corners, and no staples. Full of the highest-quality content available from the world’s best children’s writers and artists. Also available in Spanish.
  • LADYBUG (ages 3-6) offers 40 pages of enchanting stories and poems to read aloud that are just the right length for a cozy cuddle. LADYBUG magazine is sure to spark young imaginations and develop a love of reading that will last a lifetime. Also available in Spanish.
  • Introduce children to science, art, nature, and environmental issues with CLICK (ages 3-6). Each issue answers their questions about how the world works, one intriguing topic at a time.
  • ASK (ages 6-9) is the magazine about science, history, inventors, artists, and more. Also available in Spanish.
  • SPIDER (ages 6-9) is filled with fun stories, poems, and activities, specially designed for newly independent readers. Each issue’s 40 full-color pages feature bright, detailed illustrations by famous children’s artists.
  • Each 36-page issue of APPLESEEDS (ages 6-9) focuses on one cultural or historical topic and explores it with a unique you-are-there perspective that children love.
  • MUSE (ages 9-14) is the science and arts magazine for kids that’s spot on with the facts, but off-kilter with the jokes.
  • CRICKET (ages 9-14) publishes only the highest quality fiction and classic literature and nonfiction stories on culture, history, science, and the arts. Each 48-page issue includes a story, poetry, or art contest, as well as the signature cast of rambunctious bug characters who offer humorous commentary on the stories.
  • DIG (ages 9-14) is all the fun and discovery of archaeology – without all the dirt. Exclusive scoops and photos from actual dig sites get kids excited about discovering the past.
  • FACES (ages 9-14) takes young readers around the world and back to get an honest and unbiased view of how children in other countries and world regions live.
  • Both visually and intellectually exciting and entertaining, ODYSSEY (ages 9-14) presents science as a vital link to daily life with the most current research on cutting-edge topics.
  • CALLIOPE (ages 9-14) brings world history right into your living room with 48 pages of the people, inventions, and events that shaped our growth as a society.
  • COBBLESTONE magazine (ages 9-14) has been telling America’s story since 1980 and is the recognized leader in the study of American history for children.
  • A literary magazine for young adults who are passionate about the written word, each 48-page issue of CICADA (ages 14+) is filled with exceptional stories and thought-provoking poetry written by and about teens.

More recently, the Spanish-language magazine Iguana has joined the mix, too.

On the interactive websites accompanying the print magazines, young people can exchange ideas with each other and with authors and illustrators, write book reviews, and contribute their own writings and drawings. Cricket’s site, for example, launched in 1997, includes the Chatterbox, a monitored forum where young readers can write down their concerns and interests and can respond to the writings of others; and the Author &amp; Artist Corner where they can question Cricket illustrators and writers about the creative process. The site encourages children to enter their own stories and pictures in contests. If excellent, the winners get their pieces published in the Cricket magazines and online.

Impact of the Open Court Readers and Cricket Magazine Group

The audience for Open Court Readers increased when in 1996 SRA/McGraw-Hill bought the assets for the textbooks. By 1999, these books were being used by 400,000 children in eight hundred U.S. schools.[48] In the fall of 1999, Blouke Carus learned first-hand of the success of his and Marianne’s reading program when he visited P.S. 161, an inner city elementary school in Brooklyn, New York. After having used Open Court textbooks in previous grades, the 1,300 sixth graders attending the school achieved higher reading scores than their peers in any other New York City school. The students’ enthusiasm for learning to read increased as well; they vied with one another to join the “Principal’s Reading Club.” Blouke reported, “When you talked to fourth, fifth, and sixth graders [at that school], you thought you were talking to adults.”[49]

From early on, Cricket enjoyed a relatively large circulation that was almost entirely subscription-driven, with a 70 percent renewal rate.[50] According to John Grandits, “I don’t think we ever made much money, but for a while we were printing 300,000 copies per month. Most of the time we were printing closer to 100,000. Even so, every month that many kids get a copy of Cricket.”[51] Significantly, Grandits saw Cricket’s success in terms of its impact on children rather than on the money it made. Marianne agreed: “This is an idealistic undertaking. We’re not trying to make a lot of money,” and added, tongue-in-cheek, “If we were, we’d be in comics and sex manuals.”[52]

Reliable numbers are difficult to come by (in part because the magazine never had to keep official numbers for advertisers), but a December 1973 article in Time mentions that Cricket already had a stately 100,000 subscribers at that point—only three months after its launch.[53] Another publication lists circulation of Cricketat 135,360 two years after its inception, a figure that grew nearly by 30 percent to an average of 175,000 in 1977.[54] In a list of circulation figures reported by the publishers of America’s biggest children’s magazines in 1983, Highlights for Children, National Geographic World, Boys’ Life, and Sesame Street lead with numbers far surpassing 1 million. Cricket, with a circulation of 136,000, is in fifteenth place.[55] Given that Marianne Carus never intended Cricketto be a mass publication, but rather cater to the interests of a small but discerning group of readers, that is a respectable position. By 1997, this number dropped to 80,000—no doubt due to the magazine group’s diversification.[56] In a 1999 article, Blouke Carus estimates the total circulation of Cricket Magazine Group’s publications at about 500,000.[57] Because the magazines were read by more than one family member and thousands of subscriptions went to schools and public libraries, the Caruses surmised that readership was close to two million.[58]

The overwhelming majority of Cricket’s readers came from educated families with at least one parent holding a postgraduate degree, according to Marianne.[59] While most readers lived in the United States, only two years after its launch the magazine could already boast a proud number of international fans, too.[60] In the beginning, librarians and educators were the main focus group that was targeted with direct mailings of the magazine. Although direct mailings were very costly, this proved to be a highly successful marketing method. Marianne Carus remembers winning many subscribers “overnight.”[61] Additionally, Open Court Publishing’s trade book sales force sold the magazine to roughly one thousand bookstores. This marketing method was phased out in the late 1970s.[62] Cricket was also advertised in other magazines and on radio stations.

These tactics seem to have been good business. Throughout the 1990s and 2000s, Carus Publishing, which includes Cricket Magazine Group, Cobblestone Publishing, and Open Court Publishing, was in the black. In 2010 revenue reached $16 million.[63] In 2011 ePals Corporation, an education media company which has since rebranded as Cricket Media, acquired Carus Publishing for $5 million in cash and $10 million in stock at 64 cents per share. “Now that literacy is broadening to new platforms and new forms of literate community are emerging, we realized we needed to partner with a company that had deep expertise in these new [digital] media and new community platforms,” Carus Publishing chairman Blouke Carus commented on the acquisition.[64] ePals claims to reach more than one million classrooms in over two hundred countries with its network of online learning communities, e-books, digital editions, and mobile apps.[65] Subscription options for the children’s magazines include print for $33.95 per year, digital for $17.99 per year or a print/digital bundle for $51.90.[66]

Social Life and Personal Recognitions

Today, Marianne continues to be involved in Cricket Magazine Group as an active adviser, although her priority is her family. She, her children, and her husband share a deep love of classical music. The family members used to love to play chamber music together—Marianne on the violin, Blouke on the cello, and daughter Christine on the flute. The Carus children follow in their parents’ footsteps: André, who spurred Marianne’s and Blouke’s interest in educational reform, is CEO and publisher of Carus Publishing Company; Inga is chairwoman and CEO of Carus Corporation, the former Carus Chemical Company[67]; and Christine is a freelance designer.

More than sixty years after emigrating from Germany, asked whether she feels a particular allegiance to the United States or to her native country, Marianne laughs. “It was probably two years after we got [to the United States] . . . I felt already like an old American at that time. [Today] I usually say my passport is American [but] I call myself a Weltbürger, a world citizen. Because I love a lot of different countries. My two favorite countries are Germany and the United States.”[68]

Marianne’s contributions to children’s education have been invaluable. Because of these, she has been appointed to key positions in educational organizations over years. From 1982 to 1985, Marianne acted as director on the board of the American Library Service for Children (ALSC). She served on the executive board of the International Board on Books for Young People (IBBY) from 1990 to 1994, for two of those years as vice president. Her influence extended to Europe—in particular, her native Germany, where she was a member of the board of directors of the International Youth Library in Munich. Illinois Wesleyan University awarded her an honorary doctorate in 2003 and the Association of American Publishers inducted her into their hall of fame in 2006. Betsy Hearne’s laudation reads, in part:

It is almost impossible to measure the impact Marianne Carus has had on America’s young readers and readers-to-be. We can consider quality—art, stories, and information created by the best writers and illustrators in the world and published in an accessible magazine format. We can consider the emotional, spiritual, psychological, and intellectual bonding between parent, child, and literature that results from interactive reading from birth through adolescence. We can look back nearly 35 years at the array of magazines that Marianne has started for children [. . .] It doesn’t tell how Marianne involved the likes of Isaac Bashevis Singer, Lloyd Alexander, Sid Fleischman, Astrid Lindgren, Arnold Lobel, Trina Schart Hyman, Jean Craighead George, Julius Lester, Nikki Giovanni, and Gwendolyn Brooks to contribute to the very first issue of Cricket magazine, and then went beyond those famous contributors to discover and publish new talent. And it doesn’t recognize how much Marianne has contributed to international understanding through connecting and translating the best for children, from many cultures. To do all this involved creative energy supported by realistic editorial strength.

Marianne would be the first to say she did not do this alone. She has lived happily ever after with her supportive husband Blouke since their courtship in Germany, and she has galvanized the leaders of the children’s book industry with charismatic charm [. . .]

I have never known her enthusiasm, diplomacy, and determination to fail. If anyone ever deserved to enter the Educational Publishing Hall of Fame, it is Marianne Carus, for delighting and informing our children.[69]


Marianne’s career as an entrepreneur began with the recognition that many parents would welcome a high-quality magazine to help their children develop into creative and cultured adults. She managed to create a new niche market for children’s literary magazines in the United States. Her interests and drive to do so were formed in part through her own background, education, and values growing up and in part through her experience as part of the Hegeler/Carus family. Her study of literature at European and American universities had honed her innate communication, critical, and analytical skills as well as her sensitivity to fine writing. Once married, Marianne had a strong support system in her husband and his family. Blouke and Marianne’s zeal for educational reform and the Cricket business venture were bolstered by the intellectual reputation and the established networks of the Carus publishing business. With the connections, capital, and publishing experience of the family behind her, Marianne was able to bring together the resources to found and develop her own line of magazines. “In some ways,” a critic has noted, “Cricket [was] a direct descendant of Open Court’s basic reading books, books of color and adventure that seem based on the understanding that monotony is the greatest crippler of youthful imagination and dedicated to the proposition that relevance is not necessarily synonymous with contemporary.”[70]

Early big-name supporters and contributors like Clifton Fadiman and Isaac Bashevis Singer helped to set up a standard of excellence that has continued to this day. Though the business always was of a relatively modest financial size, its influence is seen through its non-pecuniary impacts on the industry and on the reading choices of (at least some) American youth. Marianne enjoys telling an anecdote about a young woman who sat next to Blouke and her on a flight to Europe. Blouke struck up a conversation with her. “She said she was going to Russia to make some kind of a contract with a steel company, and he [Blouke] said, ‘Well, where did you graduate from,’ and she said, ‘Harvard’ and she was a Cricket reader. When she heard from Blouke that Cricket’s editor in chief was sitting next to him, she wanted to meet me and we talked. She said, ‘I would have never gone to Harvard if it hadn’t been for Cricket.’”[71]


[1] As quoted in “Carus Publishing Company History,” Cricket Magazine Group (accessed July 22, 2014).

[2] Marianne Carus, interview by Jessica Csoma, November 21, 2013.

[3] Ibid.

[4] Ibid.

[5] LaSalle, Illinois, Census of Population and Housing 1950, U.S. Census Bureau (accessed July 24, 2014).

[6] Marianne Carus, interview by Jessica Csoma, November 21, 2013.

[7]The Continuing Values of Open Court,” unpublished manuscript of a talk Blouke Carus gave at Southern Illinois University on May 4, 2009 (accessed August 20, 2014).

[8] Cf. (accessed August 12, 2014). Also see Blouke Carus, “The Continuing Values of Open Court.”

[9] A 1975 article speaks of more than 3 million copies, “Cricket Magazine Gives Children Monthly Potpourri Designed to Stimulate Intellectual Growth,” Southern Illinoisian June 22, 1975.

[11] Marcy Drexler, “See Blouke Carus Run (but not to Dick and Jane),” Caltech News, vol. 33, No. 1, 1999, 13 (accessed July 21, 2014).

[12] Marianne Carus, interview by Jessica Csoma, November 21, 2013.

[13] Ibid.

[14] Harold Henderson, “Reading By Ear,” Chicago Reader, January 1, 1987 (accessed August 4, 2014).

[15] Drexler, 12.

[16] Marianne Carus as quoted in Wes Smith, “Keeping the Right Chemistry,” Chicago Tribune, June 21, 1992.

[17] Marianne Carus, “Let’s Celebrate Cricket,” in Celebrate Cricket: 30 Years of Stories and Art, ed. Marianne Carus (Chicago, 2003), 2.

[18] Jane Langton, “Cricket’s Choice,” New York Times, November 17, 1974.

[19] As quoted in R. Gordon Kelly, ed., Children’s Periodicals of the United States (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1984) 105.

[20] It lasted until the late 1930s. For a brief overview, see Kelly, 377-388.

[21] Stephen Grover, “Children’s Magazines Thrive on Devotion, And Get Oodles of It,” Wall Street Journal, April 21, 1975. For excellent, more comprehensive market overviews also see R. Gordon Kelly or Selma K. Richardson, Magazines for Children (Chicago: American Library Association, 1983).

[22] Judith S. Duke, Children’s Books and Magazines: A Market Study (White Plains, NY: Knowledge Industry, 1979) 7-24, here 7.

[23] Mark Mather, “Fact Sheet: The Decline in U.S. Fertility,” Figure 1 (accessed August 8, 2014).

[24] Duke, 38-41, here 38.

[25] Marianne Carus, interview by Jessica Csoma, November 21, 2013.

[26] Carus, “Let’s Celebrate Cricket,” 6.

[27] As quoted in “Critic’s Cricket,” Time, December 10, 1973, 114.

[28] Marianne Carus, “Cricket’s Mission,” Marianne Carus’ personal files.

[29] Drexler, 13.

[30] Marianne Carus, interview by Lillian Forman, May 19, 2011.

[31] Duke, 112.

[32] Langton, “Cricket’s Choice.”

[33] Edwin McDowell, “Good Reading for Small Fry,” Wall Street Journal, February 5, 1974.

[34] As quoted in Carus, “Let’s CelebrateCricket,” 16.

[35] Wayne Slater, “A Magazine That Appeals to Children’s Intelligence,” The Hartford Courant, April 23, 1982.

[36] Kelly, 132-136.

[37] Trina Hyman, “I’m Not Sure If I’m Making This Up, But . . .,” In Celebrate Cricket: 30 Years of Stories and Art, ed. Marianne Carus (Chicago, 2003), 61.

[38] Ibid, 54.

[39] Marianne Carus, interview by Jessica Csoma, November 21, 2013.

[40] Hyman, 51.

[41] Marcia Leonard, “In the Beginning,” In Celebrate Cricket: 30 Years of Stories and Art, ed. Marianne Carus (Chicago, 2003), 77.

[42] “Children’s Magazine Stresses International Content,” The Frederick Post, December 3, 1975.

[43] Duke, 102.

[44] For Miriam Bat-Ami’s Two Suns in the Sky, cf. (accessed August 1, 2014).

[45] For Karin Gündisch’s How I Became an American, translated from the German by James Skofield, cf. (accessed August 1, 2014).

[46] As stated on their website, the National Magazine Awards “honor print and digital publications that consistently demonstrate superior execution of editorial objectives, innovative techniques, noteworthy journalistic enterprise and imaginative art direction,” see For a list of recent Cricket Magazine Group awards, see (both websites accessed August 1, 2014).

[48] Drexler, 13.

[49] Ibid, 14.

[50] This figure is quoted by John Toraason, general manager of the Cricket Magzine Group, in “Ad-Free and Growing,” Folio, May 15, 1995. Renewal rates in the children’s magazine market in general are estimated at 30-50 percent, Duke, 104.

[51] John Grandits, “I’m Not Sure If I’m Making This Up, But . . .,” In Celebrate Cricket: 30 Years of Stories and Art, ed. Marianne Carus (Chicago, 2003), 63. An article from 1982 quotes the circulation at 120,000, see Slater, “A Magazine That Appeals to Children’s Intelligence.”

[52] Slater, “A Magazine That Appeals to Children’s Intelligence.”

[53] “Critic’s Cricket,” Time, December 10, 1973, 114.

[54] Duke, 103.

[55] Richardson, 141-42.

[56] Donald R. Stoll, ed. Magazines for Kids (Glassboro, NJ: Educational Press Association of America, 1997) 24.

[57] Drexler, 13.

[58] Marianne Carus, phone interview with Jessica Csoma, September 10, 2014.

[59] Smith, “Keeping the Right Chemistry.”

[60] “Several thousand readers outside the United States,” see “Children’s Magazine Stresses International Content.”

[61] Marianne Carus, interview by Jessica Csoma, November 21, 2013.

[62] Duke, 111.

[63] Stefanie Botelho, “Digital Platform ePals Acquires Carus,” Folio, December 1, 2011 (accessed August 4, 2014).

[64] Brad Lemaire, “EPals to acquire Carus Publishing in $15 mln cash and stock deal,” (accessed August 4, 2014).

[65] See “Our Story“ (accessed August 1, 2014).

[68] Marianne Carus, interview by Jessica Csoma, November 21, 2013.

[70] McDowell, “Good Reading for Small Fry.”

[71] Marianne Carus, interview by Lillian Forman, May 19, 2011.

Citation Information

The following information is provided for citations.

  • Article Title Marianne Carus
  • Coverage 1928-2021
  • Jessica Csoma
  • Author Lillian Forman
  • Website Name Immigrant Entrepreneurship
  • URL
  • Access Date May 26, 2024
  • Publisher German Historical Institute
  • Original Published Date
  • Date of Last Update May 11, 2021