National Reading Month is more than just literary characters of my childhood, it was the reward for reading about those characters! It was also about food. Specifically, pizza from a certain chain restaurant.
Reader For Life
I’ve previously confessed my love for reading, all the characters I’ve met, and that reading has been a lifelong commitment. I’ve never sought out any kind of reward for committing to reading a certain number of books – I do reading challenges to prove to myself that setting a goal is only as good as accomplishing it. At one time though, all those hours spent reading were incentives for something much bigger and more exciting.
I read for pizza!
But first, picture it…
1991 (and 1992)
In the fall of 1991, my third grade class was introduced to the Book It! Program (yes, with an exclamation point). The program would go for several months, and during each month, everyone in the class would document the books we read, based on a preset goal – for instance, the first few months were two books, and after that, I think the teacher upped the ante to three books. The short term goal was, upon successful completion each month, a voucher for a free (yes, free!) Personal Pan Pizza at Pizza Hut, signed by the teacher. At the end of the program each year, the teacher would count up the amount of books we read, and if we were the class with the most read books, we met the long term goal – a classroom pizza party!
My third grade class successfully got that pizza party. I remember alot of mixing soda and everyone eating too much pizza, but it was SO WORTH IT!
The Book It Pin
When we received our vouchers for pizza, we would go to Pizza Hut. At the beginning of the program year, we would get our pin, and after each visit, a star sticker was added to the pin by the server. I know that sounds silly to an adult, but getting that star sticker was a huge deal. It meant that you completed a goal, and that goal meant pizza.
For the Venezio family, Pizza Hut became a one Friday per month thing. We would drive to the location in Egg Harbor Township, NJ (it is still there today!) – it wasn’t the closest, but it was nicer than the closest location to our house. My brother and I would get our star stickers and Personal Pan Pizza, my parents saved on two dinners, and my dad even got to go to Staples after that (there used to be a Staples in that shopping center). Everyone was a winner on Pizza Hut nights!
My brother and I participated in the program through our Intermediate School from third grade until sixth grade, collecting four pins and all five star stickers on each one. II really should have tried to keep those pins for myself, but I’m pretty sure they got thrown out after we graduated sixth grade.
In fact, if I had been in the program just one more year, I would have gotten this pin…
My last pin was from 1994 – I could have gotten a birthday pizza pin!
The History of Book It!
Pizza Hut established the Book It! program in 1985, as an incentive-based program aimed at getting children to establish a love of reading. The program ran from October until March each school year, and could be done both in the traditional classroom, as well as homeschooling. Students in Kindergarten through Sixth Grades could participate if the school enrolls.
I never actually knew there were commercials for Book It!, but I found one from 1992, which was during my first school year participating in the program.
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The program itself has never been without its critics (because is anything?) – from believing teachers to be corporate schills for Pizza Hut, promoting junk food to a captive market, and making visits to Pizza Hut part of bringing up children to be literate. These believes were the creation of a group called Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood. Meanwhile, psychologists believed that the program reduced children’s interest in reading, which was unfounded, as studies on the program showed it neither increased nor decreased the motivation to read.
I mean, if you’re interested in reading, then you’re going to read. If you’re not, then you won’t. It isn’t in the approach, it is more in the self-motivation, or perhaps self-discipline.
Booking It for 35 Years!
Today, Book It! is 35 years old, and still exists in many countries, except for Australia, which stopped its program in 2002. For the program’s 30th birthday in 2015, Pizza Hut invited its alumni back by offering a voucher for a Personal Pan Pizza (one topping, as per the rules) when they visited the anniversary website.
I actually did sign up for a voucher for the anniversary in 2015 (simply for the thrill of doing so), but the anniversary promo didn’t actually offer pins, which of course, I wanted. I never did claim my voucher. 😦 I really should have, maybe I could have gotten a sticker if I’d asked. I may be a grown-ass thirtysomething, but stickers are awesome, as are willing Pizza Hut employees that just hand ’em over!
The Book It! Program reaches 14 million students in 37,000 Kindergarten through Six Grade schools annually, and offers several programs within its structure, instead of just the traditional Book It! program. “Give Me 20 Challenge,” which gives young readers a foundation with which to build reading-readiness and a home reading routine. “Give Me 20” is offered twice per year, and can be done on the individual or classroom level. National Young Readers Week (established in 1989) is held each second week of November to raise awareness around the importance of reading.
Summer Reading is a program in which weekly emails of reading activities are sent to families to increase reading during the summer months (which was usually when I did most of my reading once I wasn’t participating in Book It! anymore).
The Literacy Project, through Pizza Hut, has a ten-year goal to “transform the lives of 100 million people in just 10 years, by enabling access to books and educational resources, empowering teachers and inspiring readers.”
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These days, kids get a sticker each month for their participation, but do they get it on a pin? There was nothing quite like getting that sticker on the pin each month – the ultimate “I did it!” of a job well done.
And Now, You!
Did you participate in the Book It! program in your school at some point? Did you enjoy the thrill of pizza and a star sticker on your pin each month you met the reading goal? I’d love to hear your memories of this program, and if you still have your pins!
Go on, admit it, you have a soft spot for those pins!
Read like opening the book unleashes the planets and a rainbow, and have a great day!