Tuesday, February 10, 2009

The Fine Line...

...between promoting reading and marketing.

An article in today's New York Times has a consumer group accusing the venerable Scholastic publishing group of selling trinkets and toys in the guise of its school reading program promotion.

"Scholastic Inc., the children’s publisher of favorites like the Harry Potter, Goosebumps and Clifford series, may be best known for its books, but a consumer watchdog group accuses the company of using its classroom book clubs to push video games, jewelry kits and toy cars.

A page from June 2008 shows books, toys and trinkets.

The Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood, an advocacy group based in Boston, said that it had reviewed monthly fliers distributed by Scholastic last year and found that one-third of the items sold in these brochures were either not books or books packaged with other items.

Based on a review of brochures in Scholastic’s Lucky Club for children in second and third grade, and its Arrow Club for fourth through sixth graders, the group said that 14 percent of the items were not books, while an additional 19 percent were books sold with other trinkets like stickers, posters and toys.

Susan Linn, director of the campaign, said she had received complaints from parents who were concerned that their children were being sold toys, games, makeup and other items under the guise of a literary book club that is promoted in classrooms.

"Marketing in schools is a privilege and not a right," Ms. Linn said in an interview. "Scholastic is abusing that privilege."

I've long since tired of those flyers, which come with monthly regularity in M's backpack. The ordering forms that I've ripped up and trashed over the years would probably account for a mere 1% of the paper industry's output, I'm sure.

In the early days, it was just books and the occasional 'flash card' collection, but now is growing into friendship bracelet kits, Barbie tie-ins, Hannah Montana journals, High School musical accessories and Spongebob figurines. Anything in the pursuit of a TV driven kid's attention span. The old favorites still persist, with picture book retellings of Laura Ingalls Wilder's already easily readable and well-crafted prose, simplifications (with movie tie-ins) of the Chronicles of Narnia.

Of course, I prefer to create my own reading crazes from book series well-loved and remembered from childhood. Some degree of marketing and merchandising is always appropriate to generate enthusiasm in kids who are quite accustomed to the overstimulation from TV, video games and Flash-laden websites. But to see that Scholastic (not exactly the most innocent of companies in the 'Buy Baby Buy' push) do it blatantly in their school clubs, is hardly a shocker , more a reflection of the times that we live in.


Anonymous said...

Sujatha, I can't help but notice how your thoughts resonate with mine. I've been reading A.A.Milne's books to my 4.5 year old, she loves them. I'm waiting for her to grow up and read Alice in wonderland all by herself! I hate the scholastic crap that get sent out every week. But the sad part is how so many parents give in easily, its easy to buy a Barbie than hunt for a classic doll that doesn't cost as much as your monthly mortgage, isn't it?
Keep writing!

Anonymous said...

oh and I'd love to get book recommendations for an almost 5 year old! Thanks

Sujatha said...


Curious George (H.A Rey) is a surefire hit- even inspiring M to insist on my made-up versions of the latest scrapes he got into, long after we exhausted the stories in the book.

Max and Ruby/anything else by Rosemary Wells : These were a huge favorite, and yes, even 5 year olds can easily learn to read them (more by sight than phonics-style methods.)

Lots of fairy tale picture books.

Jan Brett: Lovely artwork in her books, immensely popular in kindergartens. She has a fantastic resource filled website too.

Dr.Seuss books: zany as they are, they actually helped speed the learning process and made it hugely fun.

Madeline (Ludwig Bemelmans)

Maxi the Taxi dog (Debra and Sal Barraca)

Anything by Aliki (mostly non-fiction)

Books by Leo Leonni, Arnold Lobel,Laura Numeroff (If you give a mouse a cookie..),
Amelia Bedelia (Peggy Parrish: author),

Actually, many of the older no-name early reader books from the Scholastic publishers aren't bad for beginning readers. Check out your local library book sales and the Half Price bookstore near you- you might land some really nice picks (Danny and the Dinosaur, Little Bear and the like) for a fraction of the cost of buying from the school order forms. Those are classic, and not horrendously commercialized.

Alice in Wonderland (the original) could take a while for M to tackle, though I do have a slightly abridged version that I may be able to persuade her to look at. (After she's done with her current craze for a relatively new series called the Sisters Grimm, which I purchased a couple of years too early for her to handle;)

Hope this list helps you. Don't forget to ask your local librarian: even they will have favorites which are well worth trying out. Good luck with your endeavour to raise a Happy Reader!

Sujatha said...

I just ignore everything other than books in those flyers and C knows to do the same (or else he might find the book pipeline drying up, which is the worst imaginable thing in his life!). :)

Anonymous said...

gee..thanks Sujatha! That's an awesome list and I see a few that we haven't read yet. Thanks so much!