12/22/1986 at 01:00 AM EST
Each week some 23 million adults and four-and-a-half-million teenagers read PEOPLE. Often they're drawn by the celebrities on the cover—late-breaking news on Springsteen's new album or Di's latest do. But while readers come for the celebrities, they stick around for the stories about ordinary people who do extraordinary things—from a world-record somersaulter to a man who invented gourmet ice cubes. These personalities make up more than half of each issue. In 1986 PEOPLE ran stories on Francis Johnson, owner of the world's largest ball of twine (21,140 pounds); triathlete Dick Hoyt, who runs marathons while pushing his paralyzed son, Rick, in a carriage; Tom Blasingame, 88, the oldest working cowboy in Texas; and John McClanahan, whose dog tends bar in Columbus, Miss. Readers could also sample some of the 6,351 suggestions readers made when we asked them where Mikhail Gorbachev should visit if he ever wanted to see how Americans really live. (Terrie Thomas Welsh invited him to a "lingerie party," which is sort of like an R-rated Tupperware fest.)
It's the everyday stories that appeal to Hayley Jelle of Mount Horeb, Wis. Says Jelle, 16: "I think it's neat to find out what people are doing even if they don't have a real big name." Last month this magazine happened on a portfolio of photographs featuring the work of Jelle and 22 other young Midwesterners, and we thought it was good enough for this holiday double issue (see "Americana," page 140).
The pictures came from Madison, Wis. free-lancer Zane Williams, 37, who arranged to lend automatic Olympus AFL cameras to then 8-to-15-year-olds in his home state. "I sensed that they had the potential for creating pure imagery," he says. In 1985 he gave cameras, a brief lesson and film to 11 kids in a ragged urban section of Madison, then kept tabs on them for two months, regularly developing their film. This year he repeated the project with 12 farm children. When picture researcher Wendy Speight saw the results, which had been shown at the Madison Art Center, she found that the photographs were "as fresh and striking as a lot of professional work."
The 4,000 images the kids snapped tell a great deal about the way they see the world. Many capture their sense of fun. "My sister Amy tried to take a picture of a cow's nose," says Adam Niesen, 9, with a giggle. "But she got a cow's rear end instead." Others, like Jelle, give a child's fresh view of the everyday patterns of farm life. Williams noted one major difference in the two groups: "The city kids took mostly indoor shots, and I had to tell the farm kids to stop taking pictures of animals." Despite the national exposure for his barnyard scene, Hans Gausman, 14, doesn't plan to turn pro. "Well, you know," he says, "I'd better follow in my family's footsteps, workin' on the farm and stuff."
Somerset Maugham once remarked, "There is a short story on every street corner in America." PEOPLE seeks to bring you some of the best. And we hope you enjoy them all year through.