12 Cheesy Facts About Pizza Hut's BOOK IT! Program

Pizza Hut
Pizza Hut

If you went to school in the U.S. in the past three decades, you were probably exposed to BOOK IT!, the reading reward program by Pizza Hut that has kids devouring books by the dozen in order to earn free pizza and other rewards. According to Pizza Hut, more than 14 million students across 620,000 classrooms (or roughly 1 in 5 Americans over the past three decades) have participated in BOOK IT! Here's what you need to know about the delicious—and educational—program.

1. THE PROGRAM WAS INSPIRED BY THE SON OF PIZZA HUT'S THEN-PRESIDENT.

Inside a Pizza Hut restaurant, a woman pins a blue Book It button on a boy's shirt. Based on the hairstyles and clothing, the photo dates from the mid 1980s.
Pizza Hut

Pizza Hut's BOOK IT! program was created in Pizza Hut's Wichita, Kansas, offices in 1984. According to a video created by Pizza Hut, the program was created after President Ronald Reagan put out a call to America's businesses, encouraging them to get involved in education. Arthur Gunther, then-president of Pizza Hut, thought of his son, Michael, who had had trouble with reading due to eye problems when he was growing up. Gunther—who later told the Los Angeles Times that he was "truly motivated by my son and my love for him"—met with educators in the Kansas area with the goal of coming up with a program that would encourage kids to read and help them develop reading skills; what was developed became Pizza Hut's BOOK IT! program.

The idea behind BOOK IT! was simple: Reward students with certificates, stickers, buttons, and a single-topping Personal Pan Pizza for reading books. It was tested in Kansas schools before it—and its signature blue button—was rolled out nationwide in 1985.

Just over a month later, more than 7 million grade school students had participated across 233,080 classrooms. Gunther reported that three-quarters of students in the program exceeded their regular reading level. It also cost the chain an estimated $50 million in free pizza, plus $2.7 million in printed materials.

2. ITS CREATORS GOT A LETTER FROM PRESIDENT RONALD REAGAN.

On June 2, 1987, Reagan sent a message to BOOK IT! organizers, reading, in part:

"During this 'Year of the Reader,' we can all reflect that reading is essential to the vitality of the mind and to the success and accomplishment of almost every endeavor. As the Book-It Program prepares for yet another tremendous year of bringing the gift of reading to youngsters, I want to commend all those associated with the program for the outstanding work you do. Your efforts give help and inspiration to many and strengthen our Nation. I salute you."

3. BOOK IT! POPPED UP ON TV.

In a 1988 episode of Small Wonder, Vicki's class participated in BOOK IT! In the episode, two students have to finish their reading assignments. This being late-'80s primetime TV, one of the students creates a hip-hop book report comparing Robin Hood to Mr. T. They earned that pizza.

4. BILL CLINTON DECLARED AN OFFICIAL "BOOK IT! DAY" IN ARKANSAS.

October 3, 1988 was a very special day. Arkansas Governor Bill Clinton issued an official proclamation declaring it "BOOK IT! Day," stating that the program was "an effective tool in motivating elementary students to read." He further noted that across Arkansas that year, 5711 classrooms with 142,775 students participated in the program.

5. PIZZA HUT COFOUNDED NATIONAL YOUNG READERS WEEK ...

Pizza Hut extended BOOK IT! in 1989 with a week-long reading event that brought "celebrity" role models into schools to demonstrate the importance of reading to kids. ("Celebrities" are often local figures like school principals, though can include pop stars—see item 11 below!) Dubbed National Young Readers Week, the event was created alongside the Library of Congress Center for the Book. Pizza Hut proceeded to issue a challenge to school principals "to become shining examples for literacy by choosing one day to read their heart out all day long, from first bell to the last during National Young Readers Week." The event runs during the second week of November each year.

6. ... AND THE "BATMAN PRINCIPAL" WON THE CHALLENGE IN 2016.

Principal John Rizzo of Jonestown Elementary in Jonestown, Pennsylvania, won the National Young Readers Week principal challenge in 2016. He dressed up as Batman and visited classrooms in his school, promoting reading. Rizzo then went on the roof of the school to read to students. "We try to develop lifelong learners, especially lifelong learners of books and reading," the Bat-Principal told ABC27 News.

7. BOOK IT! IS FOR HOMESCHOOLERS, TOO.

While many students are exposed to BOOK IT! in public schools, it's available to homeschoolers too. The program runs from October 1 through March 31 each year, and students ages 5 to 12 (grades K to 6) are eligible to participate. BOOK IT! prohibits clubs and other such non-school groups from participating, suggesting that this could dilute the value of the rewards. The program is also available to virtual and online schools, with the proper paperwork.

In its first few decades, BOOK IT! kids recorded their reading with paper logbooks—and that's still an option. But there's an app for that, too. The app syncs student progress with a teacher dashboard, allowing teachers to keep track of ongoing participation.

8. CLASS PIZZA PARTIES ARE STRICTLY PROHIBITED.

The BOOK IT! FAQ explicitly prohibits "group redemptions and parties," including class pizza parties. The guidelines say:

"An important part of the BOOK IT! Program is individual recognition of your students for meeting their reading goals and our team members are trained to provide individual recognition."

9. LOTS OF PEOPLE SELL THEIR OLD BOOK IT! BUTTONS ON EBAY.

A vintage BOOK-IT pin from 1985.
The 1985 BOOK-IT! pin.

Vintage BOOK IT! promo items appear to be slightly collectible, especially the logo button which debuted in 1985. eBay has dozens of pins dating from the '80s and '90s—you can even see how the logo design changed over the years.

10. THE OFFICIAL BOOK IT! STORE SELLS SOME WEIRD STUFF.

For a brand based on reading and pizza, the official BOOK IT! store takes the merchandise to a slightly odd place. With USB car chargers, magnetic fridge clips, and squeezable dart rockets, you'd be forgiven for thinking BOOK IT! was aimed at grownups.

On the other hand, they also carry the "retro" t-shirt design and reader awards, which are great for kids.

11. BOOK IT! WAS EXAMINED IN A RESEARCH STUDY

In 1999, a paper studying BOOK IT! was published. Entitled "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. [PDF]), the paper examined how pizza functioned as an extrinsic reward for reading. In other words, although reading carries intrinsic rewards like enjoying the story, the addition of extrinsic motivators like pizza or money (not part of the BOOK IT! program) can affect students' reading behavior. The study sought to determine whether those extrinsic rewards negatively affected later reading behavior—the concern being that perhaps without pizza or cash, students might stop reading.

From the paper's abstract (emphasis added):

Neither being reinforced with money or pizzas increased or decreased the amount college students read nor influenced their intrinsic motivation for reading. Answers to direct questions about BOOK IT! and parental pay for reading suggest that when a child is extrinsically reinforced for reading the child will increase the amount read, enjoyment of reading may increase, and if they do not yet know how to read fluently, the programs may help the child to learn to read. These results provide no support for the myth that extrinsic rewards for reading undermine intrinsic interest in reading. Rather, extrinsic rewards for reading set the conditions where intrinsic motivation for reading may develop.

12. JUSTIN BIEBER READ THE CAT IN THE HAT FOR BOOK IT!

In 2011, BOOK IT!'s "America's Biggest Bedtime Story" program presented Justin Bieber reading The Cat in the Hat by Dr. Seuss. The program exists to encourage parents to read bedtime stories to their kids. Bieber read the story to benefit the Pencils of Promise charity. The next year, BOOK IT! recruited Tim Tebow to read Green Eggs and Ham. (Back in 2007, John Lithgow kicked off the trend, reading his own kids' book, The Remarkable Farkle McBride.)

15 Animal Names That Can Be Used As Verbs

iStock.com/fotojagodka
iStock.com/fotojagodka

People can go fishing, rabbit on incessantly, dog one another, and horse around. But because of their usefulness in completing burdensome work, horse has also been used in (originally naval) slang since the mid-19th century to mean “to work to the point of exhaustion”—or, in the words of the Oxford English Dictionary, “to drive or urge at work unfairly or tyrannically.” But horses aren’t the only animals whose names can be “verbed.” From turtles to tigers, you can drop any one of these 15 creatures into your everyday conversation.

1. Bulldog

No one is entirely sure why bulldogs are called bulldogs, with different theories pointing to everything from their bull-like stature to their bullish faces to the fact that they might once have been bred to bait bulls. Whatever the origin, the bulldog’s strength and its robust, resilient behavior means that you can use its name as a verb meaning “to attack roughly,” or “to wrestle to the ground.”

2. Tiger

A tiger
iStock.com/konmesa

If you tiger, then you walk to and fro, like a tiger pacing in a cage. If you tiger something, then you paint or mark it with contrasting stripes.

3. Spider

Jumping spider
iStock.com/elthar2007

As well as being used simply to mean “to creep” or “to move like a spider,” if you ensnare or entrap something, or else cover it in a cobweb-like pattern, then you spider it.

4. Cat

British shorthair cat with expressive orange eyes
iStock.com/Leesle

Because the cathead is the horizontal beam at the bow of a ship that’s used to raise an anchor, the word cat has a number of nautical uses as a verb, including “to lift an anchor from the water,” “to secure an anchor,” and “to draw an anchor through the water.” But because shooting the cat was 19th century slang for being sick from drinking too much, you can also use cat to mean “to vomit.”

5. Vulture

White-backed vulture
iStock.com/EcoPic

Vultures’ grim feeding habits and their remarkable flying ability have given the word two meanings as a verb in English. Feel free to use it to mean “to eat voraciously” or “to tear at your food,” or else “to descend steadily through the air.”

6. Owl

Owl in flight
iStock.com/WhitcombeRD

Owling (as well as being a short-lived social media craze) was once the name given to the crime of smuggling sheep and wool from England to the continent—a crime so-called because the nefarious “owlers” carried out their crimes at night. That might not be the most useful of words these days of course, so feel free to also use owl to mean “to act wisely, despite not knowing anything.”

7. Shark

It’s easy to presume that the use of shark as a verb to mean “to act like a predator” (which is the same shark as in loanshark, incidentally) derives from the deadly sea creatures. In fact, it might be the opposite: Both meanings of the word shark date back to the late 16th century, but it’s possible that the verb shark is the older of the two. If so, it’s possible that it comes from the earlier word shirk (in the sense of using deceit or trickery to avoid work) or else a northeastern French word, cherquier, which was often used in a phrase that essentially meant “to sponge of others” or “to act as a parasite.” So how did sea-dwelling sharks come to be called sharks? It’s possible the deceitful sharks gave their name to the menacing creatures, or else the two could be completely unrelated—and, thanks to a sea battle off the Yucatan peninsula in 1569, shark could in fact be a Mayan word.

8. Monkey

Chimpanzee looking surprised
iStock.com/photomaru

As well as meaning “to play the fool” or “to behave playfully”—as in “monkeying around”—monkey, like ape, can also be used to mean “to mimic” or “to copy someone’s movements or actions.”

9. Turtle

If a boat “turns turtle,” then it capsizes and flips over, so that it looks like a turtle’s domed shell floating atop the water. Because of that, to turtle something is to turn it upside down.

10. Snail

Burgundy snail
iStock.com/AlexRaths

For obvious reasons, snail has been used to mean “to move slowly” since the late 16th century, but because of the snail’s coiled shell, you can also use snail to mean “to draw or carve a spiral,” or “to roll into a spiral shape.”

11. Porcupine

Porcupine walking
iStock.com/ser-y-star

When your hair stands on end, feel free to say that it porcupined.

12. Canary

Canary birds take their name from the Canary Islands, which, somewhat confusingly, take their name from canis, the Latin word for “dog.” But in the 16th and 17th centuries, the canary was also the name of an energetic dance inspired by a traditional dance performed by the natives of the Canary Islands. And because of that, you can also use the word canary as a verb meaning “to dance in a lively fashion.”

13. Earwig

Earwig
iStock.com/Mr_Fu

Earwigs are so-called because they were once (thankfully erroneously) thought to crawl inside people’s ears as they slept. Through association with someone whispering clandestinely into someone’s ear, in the late 18th century eavesdroppers and people who seeked to secretly influence others became known as earwiggers—and so to earwig is to do precisely that.

14. Pig

Cute pig leaning on railing of his cot
iStock.com/Fotosmurf03

Pig has been used to mean “to give birth” since as far back as the 15th century in English (a fairly uncomplimentary allusion to a pregnant sow delivering a litter of piglets). But slightly less depreciatively, the living habits of pigs mean that it can also be used to mean “to huddle together,” or else “to live or sleep in crowded or dirty conditions.”

15. Dingo

A dingo
iStock.com/JohnCarnemolla

Because of their stereotypically sneaky behavior, to dingo on someone meant “to let down” or “to betray” them in 1930s Australian slang, while to dingo meant simply “to shirk” or “to back out of something at the last minute.”

This list first ran in 2016.

10 Facts About The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn

Public Domain, Wikimedia Commons
Public Domain, Wikimedia Commons

On its surface, Mark Twain's The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn is a straightforward story about a boy and a runaway slave floating down the Mississippi River. But underneath, the book—which was published in the U.S. on February 18, 1885—is a subversive confrontation of slavery and racism. It remains one of the most loved, and most banned, books in American history. 

1. Huckleberry Finn first appears in Tom Sawyer.

The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn is a sequel to Tom Sawyer, Twain’s novel about his childhood in Hannibal, Missouri. Huck is the “juvenile pariah of the village” and “son of the town drunkard,” Pap Finn. He wears cast-off adult clothes and sleeps in doorways and empty barrels. Despite this, the other children “wished they dared to be like him.” Huck also appears in Tom Sawyer, Detective, and Tom Sawyer Abroad, as well as the unfinished Huck Finn and Tom Sawyer Among the Indians.  

2. Huckleberry Finn may be based on Mark Twain's childhood friend.

Twain said Huck is based on Tom Blankenship, a childhood playmate whose father, Woodson Blankenship, was a poor drunkard and the likely model for Pap Finn. “In Huckleberry Finn I have drawn Tom Blankenship exactly as he was,” he wrote in Autobiography. “He was ignorant, unwashed, insufficiently fed; but he had as good a heart as ever any boy had." 

However, Twain may be exaggerating here. In 1885, when the Minneapolis Tribune asked who Huck was based on, Twain admitted it was no single person: “I could not point you out the youngster all in a lump; but still his story is what I call a true story.”

3. It took Twain seven years to write the book.

Huckleberry Finn was written in two short bursts. The first was in 1876, when Twain wrote 400 pages that he told his friend he liked “only tolerably well, as far as I have got, and may possibly pigeonhole or burn” the manuscript. He stopped working on it for several years to write The Prince and the Pauper and Life on the Mississippi.

In 1882, Twain took a steamboat ride on the Mississippi from New Orleans to Minnesota, with a stop in Hannibal. It must have inspired him, because he dove into finishing Huckleberry Finn. In August 1883, he wrote: “I have written eight or nine hundred manuscript pages in such a brief space of time that I mustn’t name the number of days; I shouldn’t believe it myself, and of course couldn’t expect you to.” The book was published in 1884. 

4. Like Huck, Twain changed his view of slavery.

Huck, who grows up in South before the Civil War, not only accepts slavery, but believes that helping Jim run away is a sin. The moral climax of the novel is when Huck debates whether to send Jim’s owner a letter detailing Jim’s whereabouts. Finally, Huck says, "All right, then, I'll go to hell,” and tears the letter up. 

As a child, Twain didn’t question the institution of slavery. Not only was Missouri a slave state, his uncle owned 20 slaves. In Autobiography, Twain wrote, “I vividly remember seeing a dozen black men and women chained to one another, once, and lying in a group on the pavement, awaiting shipment to the Southern slave market. Those were the saddest faces I have ever seen.”

At some point, Twain’s attitudes changed and he married into an abolitionist family. His father-in-law, Jervis Langdon, was a “conductor” on the Underground Railroad and housed Frederick Douglass.

5. Emmeline Grangerford is a parody of a Victorian poetaster.

Huckleberry Finn parodies adventure novels, politics, religion, the Hatfields and the McCoys, and even Hamlet’s soliloquy. But most memorable may be Emmeline Grangerford, the 15-year-old poet. Emmeline is a parody of Julia A. Moore, the “Sweet Singer of Michigan,” who wrote bad poetry about death. So does Emmeline, according to Huck: “Every time a man died, or a woman died, or a child died, she would be on hand with her "tribute" before he was cold. She called them tributes.” Along with bad poetry, Emmeline paints “crayons” of dramatic subjects, such as a girl “crying into a handkerchief” over a dead bird with the caption, "I Shall Never Hear Thy Sweet Chirrup More Alas."

6. A PENIS DRAWING ALMOST RUINED THE BOOK.

Twain, who ran his own printing press, hired 23-year-old E. W. Kemble to illustrate the first edition of Huckleberry Finn. Right as the book went to press, someone—it was never discovered who—added a penis to the illustration of Uncle Silas. The engraving shows Uncle Silas talking to Huck and Aunt Sally while a crude penis bulges from his pants. 

According to Twain’s business manager Charles Webster, 250 books were sent out before the mistake was caught. They were recalled and publication was postponed for a reprint. If the full run had been sent out, Webster said, Twain’s “credit for decency and morality would have been destroyed.” You can view Kemble’s original illustrations here.

7. Many consider Huckleberry Finn the first American novel.

“All modern American literature comes from one book by Mark Twain called Huckleberry Finn,” Ernest Hemingway wrote in Green Hills Of Africa. “There was nothing before. There has been nothing as good since." 

While this statement ignores great works like Moby-Dick and The Scarlet Letter, Huckleberry Finn was notable because it was the first novel to be written in the American vernacular. Huck speaks in dialect, using phrases like “it ain’t no matter” or "it warn’t no time to be sentimentering.” Since most writers of the time were still imitating European literature, writing the way Americans actually talked seemed revolutionary. It was language that was clear, crisp, and vivid, and it changed how Americans wrote. 

8. The end of the book is often considered a cop-out.

A major criticism of Huckleberry Finn is that the book begins to fail when Tom Sawyer enters the novel. Up until that point, Huck and Jim have developed a friendship bound by their mutual plight as runaways. We believe Huck cares about Jim and has learned to see his humanity. But when Tom Sawyer comes into the novel, Huck changes. He becomes passive and doesn’t even seem to care when Jim is captured.

To make matters worse, it turns out that Jim’s owner has already set him free, and that Huck’s abusive dad is dead. Essentially, Huck and Jim have been running away from nothing. Many, including American novelist Jane Smiley, believe that by slapping on a happy ending, Twain was ignoring the complex questions his book raises.

9. The book is frequently banned.

Huckleberry Finn was first banned in Concord, Massachussets in 1885 (“trash and suitable only for the slums”) and continues to be one of the most-challenged books.

The objections are usually over n-word, which occurs over 200 times in the book. Others say that the portrayal of African Americans is stereotypical, racially insensitive, or racist.

In 2011, Stephen Railton, a professor at University of Virginia, published a version of the book that replaced that offensive word with “slave.” Soon after appeared The Hipster Huckleberry Finn, where the word was replaced with “hipster.” The book's description says, “the adventures of Huckleberry Finn are now neither offensive nor uncool.”

10. Twain had some thoughts about the book's censorship.

In 1905, the Brooklyn Public Library removed Huckleberry Finn and Tom Sawyer from the shelves because, as librarian wrote Twain, Huck is “a deceitful boy who said 'sweat' when he should have said 'perspiration.'" Here’s Twain’s reply: 

DEAR SIR:

I am greatly troubled by what you say. I wrote Tom Sawyer and Huck Finn for adults exclusively, and it always distresses me when I find that boys and girls have been allowed access to them. The mind that becomes soiled in youth can never again be washed clean; I know this by my own experience, and to this day I cherish an unappeasable bitterness against the unfaithful guardians of my young life, who not only permitted but compelled me to read an unexpurgated Bible through before I was 15 years old. None can do that and ever draw a clean sweet breath again this side of the grave. Ask that young lady—she will tell you so.

Most honestly do I wish I could say a softening word or two in defence of Huck's character, since you wish it, but really in my opinion it is no better than those of Solomon, David, Satan, and the rest of the sacred brotherhood. 

If there is an unexpurgated Bible in the Children's Department, won't you please help that young woman remove Huck and Tom from that questionable companionship?

Sincerely yours,

S. L. Clemens

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