There was a discussion recently on the "Nonfiction for Kids" listserv, about where to get sample copies of magazines. I thought that perhaps, there are those who don't write nonfiction, who would also be interested in this information.
I work in the library and we have a fairly good collection of magazines for adults, children, and YAs. I'd say probably about 150 titles all together. The library is well-supported, so, for our size we have a nice selection. My knee jerk reaction was--"duh, check your local library." [Editorial note: you'd be amazed how many writers, not to mention normal people, never walk through the front door of their local public libraries. Preposterous!]
In our current economic situation, though, with magazines ceasing publication, and library budgets being slashed, the number of magazines found on library shelves may be diminishing. So then what?
Interlibrary loan (ILL). Again, this requires actually visiting your library, or at least talking to a librarian on the phone. [Note: we don't generally bite.] Even in the state of New Hampshire, where our population is a little over 1.3 million, an active ILL system has been in service for decades.
Ask your librarian if she would get a number of issues of Fill-in-the-Blank Magazine for you to study. I would suggest: ask for a reasonable number, say no more than five; request one or two titles at a time (you can go back again), don't ask for the current issue.
I'm going to go out on a limb here, but if no public library within your library's ILL service area carries the title you are looking for, then perhaps you should rethink asking for it. Is the reason no library carries the title because the quality is poor? Is the topic, and by extension the audience, too narrow? You may need to ask yourself, "Do I really want to write for this particular magazine?"
So, where else do you go to find magazines to study? How about large chain bookstores? They may sell children's titles, but be aware, many of these titles are strictly commercial ventures driven by licensed characters to lure children into tv viewing.
Check a magazine's website, you won't get whole issues, but you will get a feel for the quality of the magazine. Save yourself a little work by going to the commercial site, AllYouCanRead, which lists the Top 10 Kids Magazines and includes links. Click around the site of Highlights and you'll find selections from the latest issue. [Note: writing for the web is probably in your future if you want to remain relevant in the world of kids, so, take a look at as many magazine, and kid-centric websites, as you can.]
It's nearly impossible to get into a public school nowadays, if you're not a parent, but, call the school and ask to speak with the librarian/media or information specialist/whatever-your-state's-current-term is for what we used to call "school librarian." She may be able to get permission for you to visit the library and review its magazines.
Do you have a college or university in your area that has a teacher preparation program? Plan to spend an afternoon at the library there. Or, if you are an alumni of a college or university, find out if you have access to online databases that may carry teacher prep information, including magazines for kids.
Which leads me to online databases. Many public libraries also have online magazine databases such as EBSCO and InfoTrac, and, they can be accessed from your home computer, but, you will probably have to visit the library to obtain passwords. Once you have a password, you can look at individual issues of magazines, but even better, you can put in a subject that you're considering writing about and see if the topic has already been covered, and from what angles. There are two major disadvantages to online databases: there is a lot of clicking involved ☺, and you don't get all the illustrations.
Sadly, online database subscriptions are wildly expensive, and thus, individual libraries, and library systems, have been cutting back. Lack of use is often given for choosing to eliminate a database over cutting book money.
You're paying taxes and you're not even using this fabulous resource in your own town? Hurry on down to the library before it starts cutting hours, or even, horror of horrors, closing its door completely. Wow, and this started off as a simple posting about magazine samples!