I thought it was the best day of the month: the day the Scholastic book orders came in.
My teacher would sort the books into piles on the windowsill and hand out slips of paper recording the orders we’d filled out two weeks before, and we’d file by, grabbing the books we’d ordered and taking them back to our desks. Everybody always ordered at least one book so that they would receive the free poster, generally some cute photo of a baby animal. Remember?
I had a generous book club budget of ten dollars; on a good month that would procure five or six books. The best part, as I remember it, was that there were always a few 99 cent books offered, generally classics; and to stretch my book dollar I never failed to add these onto my order. In this way I came to read Rudyard Kipling’s Just So Stories, Gary Paulsen’s Hatchet, Sterling North’s Rascal, Robert Louis Stevenson’s Treasure Island, H.G. Wells’ The Invisible Man. These were all titles I never would have chosen otherwise.
Like so many things from my childhood, the Scholastic book club has changed, and not for the better. It’s glitzier, it’s flashier- and it’s not all about the books.
According to the Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood, about one-third of what is offered in your child’s Scholastic flier is not a book. Instead, your child is being marketed video games, makeup, jewelry, and toys. In school. In their “book club” order.
A fair portion of the books remaining can hardly be classified as children’s literature- rather, they are vapid, uninspiring summaries of movies and cartoon episodes. Judy Newman, Scholastic vice president, claims “the toys and other non-book items spark student interest in the books“.
True literature sparks interest in story, in character, in lyricism and illustration. Dora Goes to the Dentist sparks interest in Dora.
Even the books I would like to order- the emerging reader series about Biscuit the puppy and the Charlie and Lola books spring to mind- come packaged with some sort of cheap plastic zipper pull or bracelet- the types of toys I avoid due to the possibility of the presence of lead. By packaging the books with these toys, Scholastic succeeds in driving the price up. As much as I would like to support my child’s classroom by purchasing through Scholastic, the fact is I could buy these books more cheaply without the toy through a conventional bookstore.
They’re kids. Given a ten dollar budget, what are they going to want to choose- two books, or an electronic door alarm? Why distract them in this way?
If Scholastic really wants to spark interest in reading, perhaps what they should do is offer more books, less expensive books, quality books, the way they did when I was a kid. When a Scholastic book order coming in, the promise of new books to read, was the best day of the month.
Scholastic has no market without the support of parents. Parents have already successfully swayed Scholastic to go green and to stop selling Bratz dolls. Please consider asking Scholastic to preserve the value of books in one place it really belongs: school book clubs.
Also, I’m interested to know if I’m alone in my fond Scholastic memories. Share in the comments?