Fuse #8

Monday, March 05, 2007

Reading V. Eating

We've seen a spate of "eat healthy" children's books coming out on the marketplace recently. With increasing concern regarding our obese youth, book publishers are scrambling to fill an Eat Right gap. I know that at my library branch I rely, maybe a bit too heavily, on Showdown At the Food Pyramid and Rabbit Food when people come asking me for pro-veggie screeds.

The time seemed ripe, then, for the Anti-Pizza Hut "Book It" Program forces to pounce. Now in its (oh. my. God.) twenty-second year, the program encourages kids to read and get Pizza Hut coupons and treats as rewards. Healthy? Not a lick of it. But it involves kids and books. So the essential question we have to ask here is, does it do more harm than good?

The CNN.com article Critics Denounce Pizza Hut Reading Program makes some good points on the matter. It's corporate. It makes reading seem like just something you do for rewards. "They tend to choose easier books to get through faster." On the other hand, it's fun. Who doesn't like pizza? Is putting down the program too harsh? How lame would it be to have a program like this where the kids earned carrot sticks at the end?

Backing and forthing. I think we actually had this program when I was a kid. It was the first time I ever had a pan pizza. A greasy, slimy, personal pan pizza. On cold clear nights when the moon is at its fullest, I can sometimes still taste the slick oily cheese that remains congealed on the lining of my stomach. Blaugh!

Thanks to Jay at Disco Mermaids for the link.

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At 8:23 AM , Blogger Kelly Fineman said...

What? No Herb, the Vegetarian Dragon? There's even a companion vegetarian cookbook for that one.

At 9:08 AM , Anonymous Tracy in Michigan said...

Y'know, this isn't such a simple topic. Yes, Pizza Hut pizza is unhealthy. Yes, we want readers to pick up a book because of the internal rewards. However, teachers in the trenches know that a little incentive goes a long way. If a child becomes a reader, that's good. Right?

I don't disagree with the Harvard psychologist. I just think it's easy for her to say. The reality is a bit different. Just my two cents.

At 9:11 AM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

"They tend to choose easier books to get through faster.

I'm sick of hearing people moaning and wailing about kids plowing through books that are "too easy" for them. Reading below one's reading level is how we practice reading. It builds confidence, and makes reading a habit instead of something one mucks through with eye rolls and angst, and it creates a positive experience that can easily be recreated... so when it's time to pick of a challenging book a kid (or adult, for that matter, because how much of our pleasure reading is at our "reading level"?) will have some skills and positive experience in his or her arsenal.

I think this post was about pizza, and I got off topic, sorry. It's early for me. Pizza: I like it.


At 9:45 AM , Blogger KathryneBAlfred said...

I LOVED this program when I was a kid. It was run by the library, not by our school, and you could get five pizzas per summer. My best friend and I, famous at our small-town library already, would ride our bikes across town one way to the library, turn in our slips, get our gift certificates and another pile of books, and ride our bikes all the way across town the other way, where we would eat our pizzas and not even talk to each other, except maybe about the book we were reading.

We felt so grown-up, sitting at a booth by ourselves without any adults telling us not to read at the table. And since we both read constantly anyway, we loved any chance to show off about that. We'd pick our most ambitious books for the slips we had to turn in, the same way we did for book reports in school.

Forget "encouraging kids to read". Where I grew up, reading for fun was kind of a strange thing to do, and Erin and I did it anyway, all the time. It was so nice to have that weird habit win prizes, five afternoons every summer. That program gave me some of my few good memories of junior high.

At 10:06 AM , Anonymous Rachel H said...

I don't know if we had this program in Canada, but count me in with the 'if it encourages reading, how can it be evil?' crowd. And if the Pizza Hut trips are an occasional treat instead of a staple, that's not bad either. Adults are taught to let ourselves indulge once in a while to avoid building up binge worthy cravings.

The thing that Really turned my stomach yesterday was when I was browsing Audiobooks on a Canadian retailer's webiste, there was a link to an audiobook site with the tagline "Don't read, Listen!" Ick. So, so wrong.

At 11:40 AM , Blogger Abby said...

I loved Book It. LOVED it. From what I remember we also got a button and recognition at my school... I'm not even sure we used the Pizza Hut coupons that my brother and I got... And here I am, 20 years later, a children's librarian... Hmmmm.

At 11:53 AM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

Oh, come on. Don't pick on Pizza Hut. In a world where everything is suspect, where nothing is sacred, who gives a crap if kids eat pizza?

My kids loved Book It! It encouraged them to read, they liked the pizza. We didn't have it very often but when we did, they had a blast. It made them feel important, it helped them to read more books, and nobody died.

I don't think that Book It! is responsible for childhood obesity. Really...

At 12:06 PM , Blogger fusenumber8 said...

I should clarify that I've no beef with the program. Note my comment about rewarding kids with carrots *shudder*. I will, however, make fun of Pizza Hut when it comes to the quality of their pizza. I ate that stuff for 4 years in college every day for lunch. Didn't matter how greasy it was, I'd still swallow it down. The college-aged body is a forgiving thing. Then I discovered Papa Johns and a whole new world opened up. Ah, sweet sweet garlic dipping sauce. How did I ever live without you?

At 12:15 PM , Blogger celerysoda said...

I also did Book It!, back in 1985 and beyond... Of course, I already loved reading, so getting a free pizza once every couple months was just icing on the cake.

I'm not sure how we can pick on reading incentive programs when our schools are all about the extrinsic rewards of, oh, anything. They're called grades.

As for Book It! promoting obesity, I think it's ridiculous. Like anything else in life, moderation! Once a month or whatever, my parents took me to pick up my personal pan pizza, and that was it for Pizza Hut until the following month. Pizza may be greasy, but it's not exactly addictive. When we start offering free cigarettes, now...

At 12:37 PM , Blogger Adrienne said...

I love pizza as much as the next girl, but the link between using food as a reward and eating disorders is fairly well-documented. It's not going to affect every child or even most children that way, but in a world full of ways to promote reading, I'm going to opt out of this one. It promotes Pizza Hut far more than it promotes reading, and big business has enough hold over children's lives.

I will go eat my granola and yogurt for lunch now. :)

(Okay, okay, I love those little personal pizzas. Still.)

At 3:50 PM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

As a parent who was just sent home with a BOOK IT pamphlet from my son's school I have to say this article was very timely. I do agree that rewarding children with food is inappropriate, however, not all parents read with their children or encourage their children to read as I (we) do. I assume that this program was created to reach those children.

I do plan on bringing my son to Pizza Hut when he earns his "reward" for reading, but I will be going for other reasons. I will be going because I remember going when I was a child and being there with my family is what I remember. And yes, I still LOVE to read and haven't stepped foot in a Pizza Hut since I had one of those reward certificates in my hand so I anticipate, that when we go, it will be an event that my son and I will remember and look back on as a time we spent together, much like the time we spend together enjoying books.

At 7:48 PM , Blogger Amanda said...

I was an active participant in the Pizza Hut program when I was younger and I loved it. Even though I already loved to read, it encouraged me to read more. Pizza was always a treat in those days and I will always appreciate that program for helping me to read more.


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