Critics Hate Pizza Hut's Book It! Reading Program

We’re generally pretty damn cynical about, well, everything, but we have warm memories of Pizza Hut’s Book It! program…and we don’t even like Pizza Hut.

Sadly, not everything that makes you happy is good for you. From CNN:

Book It, which reaches about 22 million children a year, “epitomizes everything that’s wrong with corporate-sponsored programs in school,” said Susan Linn, a Harvard psychologist and co-founder of the Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood.

“In the name of education, it promotes junk food consumption to a captive audience … and undermines parents by positioning family visits to Pizza Hut as an integral component of raising literate children,” Linn said.

This week, Linn’s organization called on parents to end their schools’ participation in the long-standing program.

You know, she’s probably right. Nevertheless, we feel compelled to tell you that you can buy totally sweet old school Book It! T-shirts at Book It!s website. Ahhh, bad Consumerist! —MEGHANN MARCO

Critics denounce Pizza Hut reading program [CNN]

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  1. Jesse McBesse says:

    I forgot all about Book It!!! I’ve been a nerd my entire life, so I never really needed much encouragement to read. Nevertheless, I still looked forward to the buttons, stickers, and PIZZA! I have very fond memories, too… this is a shame to hear.

  2. niteflytes says:

    My daugher participated in Book It and now, every time we eat pizza she has this irrational urge to read a book.

  3. Juancho says:

    I thought Book It! was a gyp because I was reading Hardy Boys and other stuff by first and second grade, while other classmates were racking up the credits for what were picture books in comparison. I also remember trying to redeem stuff often had more restrictions than cashing in frequent flier miles.

    But hey, it’s just free pizza, it’s not like it’s damaging kids for life, lady.

  4. MattyMatt says:

    Appropriately, the t-shirts are available in sizes up to 2X-Large.

  5. AtomikB says:

    Whatever, there’s no harm in pizza being a reward for reading. In fact, it’s a way to teach kids that junk food should only be eaten in exceptional situations, and not treated as a regular part of a normal diet. Anything that encourages kids to read is a step in the right direction.

  6. I’m with you. Book It! is a fond memory for me. All I had to do was report on the books I was already reading and then Pizza Hut would hook me with some totally free personal pan pizza.

    Pizza Hut’s personal pan pizza was a food for which I had a completely irrational attachment as a lad.

    Through the eyes of an adult, though, I can see the validity of this complaint. Parents have a hard enough time getting kids to eat decent food without Pizza Hut coming along and tying greasy pies to an essential like reading.

  7. mopar_man says:

    Wow. Another parent out to stop everything that’s good because some people can’t parent their kids properly. I see nothing wrong with this program. I participated when I was younger. Did I eat at Pizza Hut everyday? No. I think I went there once every other week with my family. It’s a good incentive to get kids to read. The alternative is to offer kids broccoli and lettuce for reading books. I bet that’ll work great Susan.

  8. Skylar says:

    I had fun doing the Book It! program in third grade, and I didn’t even know where the nearest Pizza Hut was until about four years later.

  9. mopar_man says:

    @AtomikB:
    This guy has the right idea. Principal Cogdill knows the situation too if you read the article. Parents are to blame for fat kids. Some schools can be as well but only those stupid enough to eliminate gym class.

  10. Techguy1138 says:

    And I though I would be the only commenter supporting this.

    Sometimes corporations use education as a ‘crowbar’ to get into childrens homes. This seems to be a genuine corporate effort to promote reading in children.

  11. cflury says:

    I am usually against junk food and eating bad, but I have to say Book It is a great program. A company that does not have to do anything for our children except clog their veins is promoting literacy among young people. This lady is just pissed because her children are too inbred to be able to read and thus can not participate in such an awesome program. Ahhhhhh…. The good old days of Book It and Reading Rainbow.

  12. lincolnparadox says:

  13. marike says:

    Book-it was awesome. Sad thing is, I think a good number of parents don’t encourage their children to read (whether they just don’t have the time or care) and Book-it fills that void.

    Personal pan pizzas are no worse than the grease-sponge pizzas they fed us as a hot lunch when I was in elementary school 15 years ago.

  14. feralparakeet says:

    You know, if it weren’t for Book It!, I doubt that at least 30% of the students in my 3rd grade classroom wouldn’t have been functionally literate.

    I never really used most of those free pizza coupons I got for being a total nerd, but honestly, I’d rather be fat than illiterate.

    Instead of going offon a really, really long rant about these idiots, I’ll just say that the Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood hates reading!

  15. Yossarian says:

    @niteflytes:
    Your daughter and I have the same “problem” if you could call it that.

    Book It is sweet and it has earned Pizza Hut tons of well-deserved good PR, even if their pizzas are greasy and ultimately flavorless.

  16. skittlbrau says:

    I have fond memories of Book It! from my childhood. And I’d be interested in finding out the nutritional content of a personal pie from Pizza Hut compared to the slop that passes for lunch in most elementary schools.

    Methinks its not the 5 pizzas from Book It! that are responsible for the explosion in the nation’s waistline.

  17. SOhp101 says:

    What’s wrong with Book It? It ultimately boils down to what the parent allows to be read and put on the list to qualify for the free pizza.

    I think it’s one of the best ideas around; it provides a great motivator for children to read and it give a parents a free tool to make them do it.

  18. mopar_man says:

    Methinks its not the 5 pizzas from Book It! that are responsible for the explosion in the nation’s waistline.

    You’re right, it’s not. It’s lazy parents. Kids sit in front of TVs or computers instead of getting outside and doing something. Also, kids wouldn’t be eating that crappy school food if parents would make lunches for their kids.

  19. Youthier says:

    Seriously, it’s one personal pan pizza a month. Maybe I’m old-fashioned but this is probably not going to kill a kid.

  20. gorckat says:

    My kid loves it as much as I did…lots :)

    The next logical step is to say that words on food wrappers equate reading with gorging ourselves, so let’s drop the nutritional labels and replace brand names with pretty colors and pictures :D

  21. DTWD says:

    Aww… I remember Boot It as well. I always got olives on my pizza.

  22. Tallanvor says:

    Let Pizza Hut have it’s program. Kids are going to eat pizza whether or not Book It exists, and at least this way they’re reading.

    I loved the free pizzas when I was a kid (granted, I would have read anyway, but my brother probably wouldn’t have), and at the time I liked Pizza Hut’s pizza. –Granted, after having lived in Chicago, Pizza Hut is swill, but when you’re a kid, pizza is pizza.

  23. Papa K says:

    My wife and I both fondly remember the Book It! program. Fondly. And btw – our school wouldn’t accept crap books as being read (no picture books when they know you can read more).

    It wasn’t forced either, it was a REWARD with ONE PERSONAL PIZZA. That was like a serving of pizza. Not a extra large with everything on it! Fast food joints would do well to encourage better portion sizing, and these people pointing fingers need to point it at themselves.

    Damn irresponsible parents…
    As has been pointed out so many times…

    Damn Pizza Hut for encouraging reading! We need our kids fat AND illiterate so we can find someone new to blame!

  24. lincolnparadox says:


    Kids need incentives to read these days. Why read a book, when the 2-hour version of most novels are available on DVD? Why look something up in a text when you can Wiki it?

    The thing is, not everything is online (I know, I’ve looked). By offering kids something they like (like a personal pan pizza), they might just figure out that books have some value.

    And while a PPP has about 640 calories, as a parent you can either make sure they don’t eat the whole danged thing (find out more at http://www.pizzahut.com/menu/nutritioninfo.asp ). You can at least convince them to exercise, or feed them enough fiber to push that oily block of bread and cheese out of their colon…

  25. mschlock says:

    Totally agree with the “the hell” reaction this is getting. Seriously, it was one personal pan pizza a month, not a Happy Meal every day — of course, a lot of kids are already eating like that without benefit of book programs.

  26. ZugTheMegasaurus says:

    Why do people have to make problems where there aren’t any? A kid can have pizza once a month, and it’s ridiculous to claim that it “undermines parents by positioning family visits to Pizza Hut as an integral component of raising literate children”.

    If you’re so absent as a parent that you can’t get your child to figure out that reading is something that she should do outside the context of pizza, your kid eating Pizza Hut should be the least of your concerns.

  27. Jesse McBesse says:

    i was fed PIZZA HUT(!!!!) by both my middle and high school cafeterias. they served it hot for lunch and cold (leftover) for breakfast. some kids DEFINITELY ate 1-2 pieces of pizza for two of their meals DAILY. and this lady is complaining about eating a personal pan pizza once a month? PELASE!

  28. Meg Marco says:

    Maybe Susan thinks it’s “eat 12 pizzas get 1 free book?”

  29. brooklynbs says:

    PC thuggery I tells ya!

  30. Michael Bauser says:

    Free pizza? Damn, when I was kid, all I got for reading was a fake gold medal from the “Reading Olympics.” Do they still have that?

  31. FreakyStyley says:

    Yeah Pizza Hut, stop encouraging literacy! Won’t you please think of the children?

  32. wenhaver says:

    I have very fond memories of Book It as well. While I too, would have read anyway, the memories came from the monthly lunch out (which was a total treat… we ate lots of fresh veggies and NEVER ate out as a family) with my mom – just her and me. As far as it being high in calories, I couldn’t eat a whole PPP in one sitting in third grade. I’d bring the other half home for my dad.

    I think the Book It program helps a lot more kids and families than it hurts. And the ones that it’s “hurting” are probably the ones who are suing McDonalds for making their kids fat.

  33. Bye says:

    I just hope there’s a BookIt scene on the Special Edition of _Idiocracy_.

  34. GenXCub says:

    LOVE BOOK IT! Book It! introduced me to Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy back in 1987. I still read all five HH books constantly. You get a little personal pizza. You’d have to read thousands of books before you try to make the leap that Book It made you obese.

  35. kimsama says:

    Argh, I don’t even want to begin to say how stupid Susan Linn is — where is her statistical research that the extrinsic motivation provided by Pizza Hut is in any way bad for kids?

    Oh, this is a nutrition issue? I believe that’s for the parents to decide.

    Oh, this is an advertising issue? I participated in Book It for years and have extremely fond memories of it. I don’t like Pizza Hut pizza at all, though I did then, so I guess Pizza Hut failed in its mission to shill pizzas (but succeeded mightily in its mission to promote reading).

    Methinks “Suze” is attacking Book It because it’s a convenient way to market her book Consuming Kids (gross title, I know).

    However, since Susan’s marketing isn’t in any way promoting literacy to kids (and is in fact vilifying a program that promotes literacy), I call on students at Harvard to end their participation in her classes, and call on all readers everywhere not to purchase her book.

    Don’t hurt our Book It, Susan. You don’t even want to go there.

  36. magic8ball says:

    Great … now I’m hungry. And I am totally not buying Susan Linn’s book.

  37. etinterrapax says:

    1985? Damn. That means I was participating in Book It in its infancy. I was in fifth grade in 1984-85. And while I am normally against incentive programs for reading, which should be done for its own sake, I have an awfully hard time condemning Book It. The problem is that in my own Book It days, pizza was a treat, not an everyday occurrence in the cafeteria or at home. My family was large and we budgeted for one low-end restaurant meal every other week. My parents did not make pizza or buy it frozen. So anything that got us free pizza that was not “cooked” in our school cafeteria was a major bonus.

    Now, needless to say, it seems like pizza is everywhere and exercise nowhere, and the idea of cooking dinner thirteen days out of fourteen seems hopelessly antidiluvian. But this lady ought to be looking at herself, not her kid’s Book It coupons. I’m not impressed.

  38. texasannie says:

    I participated in Book-It back in the ’80s too. I already was a voracious reader, but it was nice to get a reward for it now and then. My family didn’t have much money so we almost never went out to dinner, and that made the free pizzas a very special treat. Pizza Hut: giving poor and nerdy children free tiny pizzas since 1985.

    I need one of those t-shirts.

  39. srah says:

    @AtomikB: Exactly. It’s one little pizza (though I couldn’t even eat a whole one back then) once a month. Long live Book It!

  40. srah says:

    @AtomikB: Exactly! It’s an offer of a free personal pan pizza once a month, not cafeteria selections. Long live Book It!

  41. Matthew says:

    I’m surprised how many Consumeristers like this program. Schools should be 100% free of corporate marketing, all the time, and fast food outfits shouldn’t be setting up shop inside public school walls, no matter what kind of benevolent sheep’s clothing they don on their way in.

  42. Xkeeper says:

    As someone who did Book It! often (I think I still have one of the buttons laying around :P), I can honestly say that even as much of a nerd as I was (I came in 3rd for “most pages read”, and yes, they were 20+ chapter fiction series)… I still only went there once every other week or so, and it was a welcome reward, mostly because it was a chance to experience something fresh. Generally most of my meals were home-cooked, but it’s nice to eat something junky every now and then :)

    A lot of parents just throw a fit because OH NOES THEYRE GETTING REWARDED WITH CRAP ARRRGHHH, but I’m willing to bet more than a few dollars that these whiny idiots are feeding their kids McDonalds much more often than “once every now and then” and ordering out for dinner rather than spending a few minutes making something healthy, but tasty, for their kids.

    I may be overweight now (265lb, 5’10″), but that was mostly caused by the happenings of my life and binge-eating as a result. Pizza Hut bookit rewards gave me a chance to sit down with my grandparents over a nice, warm pizza and discuss the things I was doing and let me relax and enjoy life.

    So, in closing, this is nothing more but another stupid “push the blame to other people” thing. It’s a great program that helps people read, and just because it can be remotely associated with something bad, we should kill it.

    Much like the video game industry. Maybe, just maybe, parents should take charge and offer another reward aside from Pizza Hut for reading often. Maybe going out for a walk :)

  43. Karl says:

    Perhaps they should start focusing on math

  44. EBW says:

    Pizza is not inherently junk food. But when you load it with fatty meats and stuff the crust with cheese and more fatty meats, well…yeah, I’d call that junk. A plain cheese and tomato pizza, or a pizza with lots of vegetables is actually fairly healthy.

  45. Youthier says:

    @Matthew: I get what you’re saying here but compared to some of the other marketing occuring in schools, Book-It seems pretty harmless.

    And I can’t even get down on some of the other marketing when I see the budget cuts happening at the state level but that’s a different topic.

  46. morydd says:

    As far as the companies getting in to the schools, I think Pizza hut is way down on the list. I think the hundreds of pairs of Nikes are going to influence children much more.

    Book It was, for me, more about self-esteem than it was about reading. (I actually got in trouble for reading too much, like when I was supposed to be doing chores/listening to the teacher.) But once a month we got to go out for dinner and I “paid” for my own food! That was probably the first time I learned that work I did could have direct benefits. Perhaps not the best way to learn that, but I was proud of myself when I put down that coupon!

  47. criticman says:

    I used to love this! Friends and I would read and all go to Pizza Hut together (chauffeured by a Mom of course) to claim our freebies…which I think were personal pan pizzas. Man, the late 80′s were great, lol.

  48. golgiapparatus says:

    My social psychology teacher, who is a grad student, used the Book It! program as an example of the overjustification effect. As a kid, he LOVED to read, and he’d read every night before he went to bed. Then, his school introduced the Book It! program, and he was like, “Sweet, I can read, which I already dig, and I get PIZZA, which everyone digs.” (I paraphrased that.) He’d get his pizza every weekend, and he was content. Eventually, however, he changed schools. The new school didn’t have the Book It! program, so he no longer got pizzas. So guess what? He stopped reading, because he was no longer being rewarded for it.

    What a horrible idea.