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Pizza for Reading: Pizza Hut's Book It!

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Pizza Hut

I remember Book It! as a clever way to get kids and parents into Pizza Hut franchises—with some reading thrown in. When the program launched in my elementary school in 1984, the deal was simple: read ten books (a goal set by my teacher), get a coupon for a free one-topping Personal Pan Pizza. To a young nerd, this was exciting stuff; I was going to read the ten books anyway, so the pizza was just a nice bonus. In addition to individual rewards, there was the lure of a class-wide pizza party if everyone met their reading goals...but there were always holdouts in my class who didn't manage to read their fair share. The promised pizza party finally happened in fifth grade, and my class of twenty descended on our local Pizza Hut like a pack of starving wolves. (We had just read Julie of the Wolves, if I recall correctly.) This qualifies me as a member of the Book It! Alumni, oddly enough.

When I was a kid, the Book It! goals were concrete and simple—measured in my class by a simple "number of books" count, and involving the student handing in a brief summary of the books read. Because the goals were so simple, they were highly exploitable. I did two naughty things to game the system: I counted collections of Garfield cartoons as "books," and on occasion I threw in a few books I'd read in prior years in order to hit the magic ten-book number required for another pizza. We were limited to one pizza a month, but when "pizza day" came around, I was always ready.

Today, while it's still possible for a teacher to set by-the-book goals, the program is more focused on time spent reading, as well as time spent reading aloud. For example, for a fifth-grader, Book It! recommends spending 300 minutes per month reading. For first-graders, the program recommends 20 minutes, 5 nights a week—which, assuming a four-week month, is 400 minutes, thus 33% more than the amount suggested for fifth-graders.

Book It! was so popular that in 1989, Barbara Bush hosted a "Reading is Fundamental" pizza party at the White House...featuring Pizza Hut pizza. The program is also available to homeschoolers (author's note—thanks to commenters for pointing this out!).

Studies and Controversy

The Book It! program was the subject of a 1999 study and scholarly paper. Titled "Effects of extrinsic reinforcement for reading during childhood on reported reading habits of college students" (Psychological Record, 1999, by Flora, S. R., & Flora, D. B.; full text), the paper characterized pizza as an "extrinsic reward" for reading, and analyzed survey data collected from college students, trying to determine how the pizza rewards (and other extrinsic rewards like cash payments) affected students' reading behavior. Here's a snippet from the paper (emphasis added):

The answers to the direct questions about Book It! and being paid to read suggested strong beneficial effects of these procedures. Specifically, of the people who reported being in the Book It! program none indicated that it decreased reading. Conversely, 27 responded that it had no effect, and 80 (74.8% of those answering the item) indicated that the Book It! program increased reading amount.

Eight people did report that participating in Book It! decreased their enjoyment of reading. However, 30 people (28%) reported that Book It! increased their enjoyment of reading and 68 (64%) reported Book It! had no effect on enjoyment.

Fifty three people (49.5%) reported that the Book It! program helped them learn how to read. Fifty three people reported that Book It! had no effect on their learning to read. Only one person reported that Book It! slowed them in learning to read. ...

Discussion

The current study found no reliable effect of either participating in the Book It! reading program or of being rewarded with money for reading as children on either intrinsic motivation for reading, or on the self-reported amount of reading per week of college students. Direct questions about the effects of Book It! and/or of being paid to read found the procedures to be beneficial or at worst benign. Indeed, the results suggest that when a child participates in Book It! or is rewarded for reading with money the child will increase the amount read, enjoyment of reading may increase, and if they do not read fluently, then the programs may help the child to learn to read.

The study was performed on college students, so it may not be indicative of the broader reading population (for example, what would happen if non-college students were polled?). But still, the study is an interesting read, including the line: "Three responses indicated cheating in the Book It! program." Thank you, scholars, for proving I wasn't the only one.

Book It! has been criticized for combining marketing, high-fat food, and literacy. The Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood (CCFC) issued a press release in 2007, including the following:

Reaching 22 million school children in 900,000 classrooms each year, BOOK IT! is one of corporate America’s most insidious school-based brand promotions. The annual BOOK IT! Beginners program – which allows Pizza Hut to target preschools – begins next week

“BOOK IT! epitomizes everything that’s wrong with corporate-sponsored programs in school,” said Dr. [Susan] Linn, author of Consuming Kids. “In the name of education, it promotes junk food consumption to a captive audience of children; turns teachers into Pizza Hut promoters; and undermines parents by positioning family visits to Pizza Hut as an integral component of raising literate children.”

BOOK IT! rewards students with certificates for a free Pizza Hut personal pizza when they reach certain reading goals. A Pizza Hut six-inch personal pan pizza has 630 calories and 27 grams of fat. With a topping, it can have as many as 770 calories and 39 grams of fat. For children ages 3-5, a Pizza Hut personal pizza can contain more than half of their daily caloric requirement, as well as their entire fat requirement.

Despite the CCFC's campaign, the Book It! program endures, and even has fans including poets and guys who wear shirts, not to mention nearly 15,000 people on Facebook. Although the published numbers are all over the place, the program currently reaches at least 10 million students annually, and is over 25 years old. That's a lotta free pizza, folks.

A Video History

Book It! is now more than 30 years old. Here's a refresher:

Did You Participate in Book It!?

What do you think about the Book It! program? Do you love it, hate it, or have mixed feelings? Share your thoughts and memories in the comments. For the record, I have no affiliation with Book It! or Pizza Hut, aside from participating in the program in grade school.

(Note: A version of this story first ran on September 28, 2012.)

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10 Terrific Facts About Stephen King
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Scott Eisen/Getty Images for Warner Bros.

As if being one of the world's most successful and prolific writers wasn't already reason enough to celebrate, Stephen King is ringing in his birthday as the toast of Hollywood. As It continues to break box office records, we're digging into the horror master's past. Here are 10 things you might not have known about Stephen King, who turns 70 years old today.

1. STEPHEN KING AND HIS WIFE, TABITHA, OWN A RADIO STATION.

Stephen and Tabitha King own Zone Radio, a company that serves to head their three radio stations in Maine. One of them, WKIT, is a classic rock station that goes by the tagline "Stephen King's Rock Station."

2. HE'S A HARDCORE RED SOX FAN.

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Not only did he write a story about the Boston Red Sox—The Girl Who Loved Tom Gordon (who was a former Red Sox pitcher)—he also had a cameo in the Jimmy Fallon/Drew Barrymore movie Fever Pitch, which is about a crazed Sox fan. He plays himself and throws out the first pitch at a game.

In 2004, King and Stewart O'Nan, another novelist, chronicled their reactions to the season that finally brought the World Series title back to Beantown. It's appropriately titled Faithful: Two Diehard Boston Red Sox Fans Chronicle the Historic 2004 Season.

3. HE WAS HIT BY A CAR, THEN BOUGHT THE CAR THAT HIT HIM.

You probably remember that King was hit by a van not far from his summer home in Maine in 1999. The incident left King with a collapsed lung, multiple fractures to his hip and leg, and a gash to the head. Afterward, King and his lawyer bought the van for $1500 with King announcing that, "Yes, we've got the van, and I'm going to take a sledgehammer and beat it!"

4. AS A KID, HIS FRIEND WAS STRUCK AND KILLED BY A TRAIN.

King's brain seems to be able to create chilling stories at such an amazing clip, yet he's seen his fair share of horror in real life. In addition to the aforementioned car accident, when King was just a kid his friend was struck and killed by a train (a plot line that made it into his story "The Body," which was adapted into Stand By Me). While it would be easy to assume that this incident informed much of King's writing, the author claims to have no memory of the event:

"According to Mom, I had gone off to play at a neighbor’s house—a house that was near a railroad line. About an hour after I left I came back (she said), as white as a ghost. I would not speak for the rest of the day; I would not tell her why I’d not waited to be picked up or phoned that I wanted to come home; I would not tell her why my chum’s mom hadn’t walked me back but had allowed me to come alone.

"It turned out that the kid I had been playing with had been run over by a freight train while playing on or crossing the tracks (years later, my mother told me they had picked up the pieces in a wicker basket). My mom never knew if I had been near him when it happened, if it had occurred before I even arrived, or if I had wandered away after it happened. Perhaps she had her own ideas on the subject. But as I’ve said, I have no memory of the incident at all; only of having been told about it some years after the fact."

5. HE WROTE A MUSICAL WITH JOHN MELLENCAMP.

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King, John Mellencamp, and T Bone Burnett collaborated on a musical, Ghost Brothers of Darkland County, which made its debut in 2012. The story is based on a house that Mellencamp bought in Indiana that came complete with a ghost story. Legend has it that three siblings were messing around in the woods and one of the brothers accidentally got shot. The surviving brother and sister jumped in the car to go get help, and in their panic, swerved off the road right into a tree and were killed instantly. Of course, the three now haunt the woods by Mellencamp's house.

6. HE PLAYED IN A BAND WITH OTHER SUCCESSFUL AUTHORS.

King played rhythm guitar for a band made up of successful writers called The Rock Bottom Remainders. From 1992 to 2012, the band "toured" about once a year. In addition to King, Amy Tan, Dave Barry, Mitch Albom, Barbara Kingsolver, Matt Groening and Ridley Pearson were just some of its other members.

7. HE'S A NATIVE MAINER.

A photo of Stephen King's home in Bangor, Maine.
By Julia Ess - Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, Wikimedia Commons

King writes about Maine a lot because he knows and loves The Pine Tree State: he was born there, grew up there, and still lives there (in Bangor). Castle Rock, Derry, and Jerusalem's Lot—the fictional towns he has written about in his books—are just products of King's imagination, but he can tell you exactly where in the state they would be if they were real.

8. HE HAS BATTLED DRUG AND ALCOHOL PROBLEMS.

Throughout much of the 1980s, King struggled with drug and alcohol abuse. In discussing this time, he admitted that, "There's one novel, Cujo, that I barely remember writing at all. I don't say that with pride or shame, only with a vague sense of sorrow and loss. I like that book. I wish I could remember enjoying the good parts as I put them down on the page."

It came to a head when his family members staged an intervention and confronted him with drug paraphernalia they had collected from his trash can. It was the eye-opener King needed; he got help and has been sober ever since.

9. THERE WAS A RUMOR THAT HE WROTE A LOST TIE-IN NOVEL.

King was an avid Lost fan and sometimes wrote about the show in his Entertainment Weekly column, "The Pop of King." The admiration was mutual. Lost's writers mentioned that King was a major influence in their work. There was a lot of speculation that he was the man behind Bad Twin, a Lost tie-in mystery, but he debunked that rumor.

10. HE IS SURROUNDED BY WRITERS.

A photo of Stephen King's son, author Joe Hill
Joe Hill
Alberto E. Rodriguez/Getty Images

Stephen isn't the only writer in the King family: His wife, Tabitha King, has published several novels. Joe, their oldest son, followed in his dad's footsteps and is a bestselling horror writer (he writes under the pen name Joe Hill). Youngest child Owen has written a collection of short stories and one novella and he and his dad co-wrote Sleeping Beauties, which will be released later this month (Owen also married a writer). Naomi, the only King daughter, is a minister and gay activist.

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Dedicated Middle School Teacher Transforms His Classroom Into Hogwarts
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Kyle Ely

It would be hard to dread back-to-school season with Kyle Ely as your teacher. As ABC News reports, the instructor brought a piece of Hogwarts to Evergreen Middle School in Hillsboro, Oregon by plastering his classroom with Harry Potter-themed decor.

The journey into the school's makeshift wizarding world started at his door, which was decorated with red brick wall paper and a "Platform 9 3/4" sign above the entrance. Inside, students found a convincing Hogwarts classroom complete with floating candles, a sorting hat, owl statues, and house crests. He even managed to recreate the starry night sky effect of the school’s Great Hall by covering the ceiling with black garbage bags and splattering them with white paint.

The whole project cost the teacher around $300 to $400 and took him 70 hours to build. As a long-time Harry Potter fan, he said that being able to share his love of the book series with his students made it all pay off it. He wrote in a Facebook post, "Seeing their faces light up made all the time and effort put into this totally worth it."

Inside of Harry Potter-themed classroom.

Inside of Harry Potter-themed classroom.

Inside of Harry Potter-themed classroom.

Though wildly creative, the Hogwarts-themed classroom at Evergreen Middle School isn't the first of its kind. Back in 2015, a middle school teacher in Oklahoma City outfitted her classroom with a potions station and a stuffed version of Fluffy to make the new school year a little more magical. Here are some more unique classroom themes teachers have used to transport their kids without leaving school.

[h/t ABC News]

Images courtesy of Kyle Ely.

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