Parents and teachers are complaining that the latest issue of a popular magazine for preteens amounts to little more than an early recruitment pitch for the Army.

Cobblestone magazine, which is put out by Carus Publishing in Peterborough, is aimed at children ages 9-14 and is distributed nationwide to schools and libraries. Its latest issue features a cover photo of a soldier in Iraq clutching a machine gun and articles on what it's like to go through boot camp, a rundown of the Army's "awesome arsenal" and a detailed description of Army career opportunities.

Most controversial has been a set of classroom guides that accompany the magazine, which suggest teachers invite a soldier, Army recruiter or veteran to speak to their classes and ask students whether they might want to join the Army someday.

One of the teaching guides — written by Mary Lawson, a teacher in Saint Cloud., Fla. — suggests having students write essays pretending they are going to join the Army: "Have them decide which career they feel they would qualify for and write a paper to persuade a recruiter why that should be the career."

"Some of the teachers were like, 'Holy cow, look at this,'" said Francis Lunney, a sixth-grade English teacher in Hudson, Mass., who quickly called the publishing company to complain. He told The Boston Globe that the guides looked exactly like the official recruiting material distributed at high schools.

The dozen or so similar complaints come at a time when the military, struggling to meet recruitment goals, has become more aggressive in trying to attract young people. But Cobblestone's editors insist the idea for the special issue was theirs alone, though they received permission to use Army photos.

Managing editor Lou Waryncia said the magazine did not intend to recruit for the Army but will consider future issues in light of the criticism, which has been greater than for any previous issue. Though previous issues have dealt with the Civil War and other military conflicts, the recent one is somewhat of a departure in that the Army was a focus by itself.

"We planned to do this well over two years ago," he said. "It just happened to come out at a time when the country's feelings are in a certain place" about the war in Iraq.

Virginia Schumacher, a retired teacher and manager at the History Center in Ithaca, N.Y., wrote one of the classroom guides. She defended the magazine, saying joining the military is a career option for any child.

"That doesn't suggest that they should or should not," she said. "In that magazine, I felt they gave a wonderful portrayal of jobs that are not what everyone thinks of when they think of the Army. It was not meant to offend anyone."

Cobblestone, which has a paid circulation of 30,000, is one of a family of award-winning children's magazines published by Carus. It was started by two teachers in 1979 to promote reading and history and grew into six magazines that cover American history, geography, world cultures, world history, science and space, general studies and reading.