Our Favorite Covers And The Woman Who Designed Them All

Staff Writer
Baystateparent Magazine

Over the past 20 years, baystateparent Magazine has had 2 owners, 2 names, 6 editors-in-chief, 6 offices in 4 towns, 240 issues, and 1 creative director who, literally, has seen it all.

Paula Monette Ethier was working as a graphic designer for publisher Kelley Small at equine magazine The Horsemen’s Yankee Pedlar when Small decided Central Massachusetts parents needed a magazine that covered their world: news about children and families and, more importantly, where to go and what to do for fun.

Ethier recalls it took six months to develop the advertising base and magazine prototype and hire a very small staff before the first issue of Today’s Parent rolled off the press in May 1996 (top left, opposite page).

“We were all just getting our feet wet,” she says. “We all worked in publishing previously, in the equine world, so advertising really doesn’t change, but editorial certainly does.”

As creative director, Ethier was — and is — in charge of the magazine’s look, combining stories and photos on pages to entice a reader and grab their attention.

While today her inbox is jammed full of messages from parents offering their children as models for the magazine’s stories, fashion shoots, or cover, in the early days, it was quite different. The young publication was just building its reputation and getting itself known, which left the staff saying, “There’s no place like home” when it came to finding artwork to accompany stories.

“In the beginning, we were barebones,” Ethier notes. “We’d say, ‘Oh, it’s the party issue!’, so everybody brought photos of their kids’ birthday parties.”

She’d hit up her friends, as well  (“You guys ski, do you have a photo?” “Got any pictures of your kids on a beach?”), which led to a fun beginning of the month at her house.

“My kids, when they knew I was bringing it home from the press that day, they’d scramble in the house to see their pictures, or their friends’,” she laughs.

Those early years of Today’s Parent were not unlike looking through a family photo album for the original staff, as the children of Small, Ethier, and Editor-in-Chief MaryJo Kurtz all appeared on the cover at various times and inside of many issues.

“How do I get my kid on the cover?”

Her answer: “Submit a photo, you never know.” (Pssst, the email is models@baystateparent.com; also look for regular casting calls on our Facebook page: facebook.com/baystateparent/)

While it may surprise parents, a child’s looks aren’t the most important attribute when Ethier is choosing a child — or children — for the cover. Rather, it’s their personality: how they interact with the photographer, which isn’t an easy task for a person of any age. 

In a candid photo submitted by a parent, a child is most likely comfortable and having fun because the photographer is Mom or Dad. When that child is then photographed at the magazine’s studio — with lots of bright lights and strangers — the setting could, understandably, produce  a child who is very different from the one in the submitted photo.

“They can light up or they can be super shy. You never ever know what you’re going to get. Some listen really well to people they don’t know, others don’t,” she laughs. “It’s a surprise. It’s a surprise every time.”

Ethier estimates only about a half-dozen of baystateparent’s 200+ covers were children from out of state. The overwhelming majority are readers’ children, everyday Massachusetts kids you see in the grocery store, baseball field, or playground.

How to photograph children

Given her role, Ethier has seen thousands of photographs of children, and offers up a few tips on how parents can take a good picture.

First, don’t force it.

“I’ve done this myself when my kids were little and you’ve got to get that Christmas card taken and they’re not in the mood,” she remembers. “Everybody can end up crying, including the mother! You can’t force it.”

Next, carefully check your background. “Really take a minute and look,” she advises.

Is your child standing in front of a plant, which then looks like it’s growing out of his head? 

“Really look at what’s behind them, you’d be amazed at what people don’t see,” she adds. “We did a photograph one time, it was a family of four for the cover. The mother was in such a rush to get to the studio, her son had two left shoes on this feet and nobody noticed until it was said and done. We got the photos, and it was like, ‘What’s wrong with his feet?’”

Looking back

Just like her former colleagues (their reflections can be found on pages 14 and 15), Ethier has a hard time believing two decades have passed. Her sons, who were 6 and 8 when the magazine debuted, grew up in tandem with it.

“It seems like Kelley was just talking about starting Today’s Parent yesterday,” she says. “It flew by.’