Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Thoughts: Scholastic Book Clubs

I'm sure I'm not the only person who has fond memories of the Scholastic Book Club. My parents, who were saintly enough to support my book habit, would give me a set amount of money, and I would pour over that circular, printed on flimsy, thinner-than-newsprint paper, to figure out how to get the most books for the money.

It seems that things have changed with the Scholastic Book Club. As reported in the New York Times, a watchdog group says that Scholastic is misusing the book club to sell non-book products.

Certainly we can appreciate the points raised by the Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood: children and teens seem to be subjected to an endless barrage of commercials and tie-in products nowadays. Yet I can't help seeing Scholastic's side of the issue, in that reluctant readers might need the hook of stickers or a game to bring them to a book. Plus, there's been plenty of discussion about how video games also encourage literacy and learning.

Perhaps Scholastic could choose products to include in the book club flier that are a bit less commercial, but if the end result means that a child or a teen learns and develop a new skill, I have a hard time finding the negative.

What are your thoughts?


Liz B said...

I didn't realize parents were so powerless and couldn't say, "select a book."

BTW, I also adored the book club & have great memories. And my neice and nephew love it too -- and usually concentrate just on the book portion (especially since their Mom says, "you can pick one/two books").

Tyler Reed said...

Thanks for the balanced approach on this, Melissa. Balance is certainly part of what I think Book Clubs shoots for here. Obviously, there are TONS of kids out there who, like you and me, were book lovers from the start and when we got our flyers as kids we circled all the books we wanted our parents to get us.

But, there are thousands (millions?) of kids out there who hardly ever read (as you know, I'm sure), and STRUGGLE to read. And we need to find effective ways to hook them so in the future they become avid readers themselves. You've got to appeal to both kinds! And I think that's what Book Clubs' approach has been for 60 years now. Thanks for your support!

--Tyler Reed
Scholastic Inc.

Liz B said...

Tyler & Melissa, another thought. I just read a response to this along the lines of "I was happy with just books, and so are kids today!" And yes, the reader-kids are. But we cannot force non-readers to become readers by insisting that one way and only one way is viable: the mold of "books only."

So they want the stickers, the lockets, the science kit? What is so wrong with that, with leading the non-reader to reading with nonbook things?

Tyler Reed said...

Exactly, Liz. You get what I was saying (and said it so much better).

If a child wants to get a locket and it comes with a book, and then they read the book... they're reading a book! And that's a child who might not have read at all if the rule was "books only."

The goal is to reinfoce and further challenge the kids who are already readers, while at the same time turning the non-readers into beginning-readers. It's the same goal that every teacher and librarian has, right?

Anonymous said...

Listen, when I was a kid, I would have LOVED it if there were products to accompany some of my favorite books. It's one way of bringing the wonders inside a book to life, to make it real for children. Heck, I just bought MYSELF a Knuffle bunny last week.

Maggie Stiefvater said...

I think this whole argument is patently absurd. First of all, as Tara points out, I would've loved some tie ins as a kid. I particularly loved books, like The Jolly Postman, who came with their own swag built in.

Second of all, as a parent with a pre-K and a kindergardener, I have to say that tie-ins work both ways. My kids have seen TV shows or worn shirts or bought pencil cases that made them want to read the book.

Third of all, as Liz said, I can always say "sorry, buckos, just books today."

Borders is full of tie ins and toys in the children's section. As a parent, it takes me two seconds to say, "We're getting books today, not toys." And my kids nod and go running to the books. This just seems like a no-brainer to me.

Melissa W. said...

My problem with it is purely selfish on my son's behalf. He's a book gobbler and we go through tons of books, so we love the book clubs. No problem telling him he can't have the junk because he doesn't want it. He wants books. Problem is, as the junk increased, the size of the flyers didn't, so the junk tends to decrease the amount of available books. We've seen this shift as he's moved up through elementary school, the junk quotient increasing as you move through the grades. We went from ordering a bag of books in first grade to one book in fifth, simply because there just wasn't that much to choose from.

Melissa W. said...

And if that sounds all la-de-dah my-kid-loves-books-and-nothing-else, he also has plenty of junk from other sources. And I've got another boy who never picks up a book (and no amount of tie-ins has ever drawn him in.)

Tasses said...

I always went through the flyer with my class, playing up the titles of the better selections and skipping over the toys and cartoon tie-in books. I hoped that helped. In my experience, the kids bought 90% books.

I think I read somewhere that Scholastic had included a girls makeup kit as a toy (don't quote me on that though). Appropriateness might be worth discussing, but I'm the first one to buy a T-shirt with Wilbur the pig or The Wild Things! Those of us who love books want to own a little piece of it in the same way film or music aficionados do.

Jedi Mom said...

My son is not a strong reader, yet he always wants something from book clubs.
The ONLY stuff he wants though are the ones that come with something:a poster, calculator,shark, whatever. If it wasn't for those things he wouldn't even want the book. You can always use the stickers or whatever as a reward for reading,:)