School Book Clubs and the Lifelong Reader

I’m from a family of seven, and while money wasn’t tight in the Charlie Bucket sense, I was no Eloise rollerskating down the hallways at The Plaza, either.  Every expenditure had to be justified.  Except.  Except when I requested money for Scholastic Book Club books.  Then the answer was an automatic YES.

Each time the teacher handed out those newsprint book orders, I’d read through the story summaries and put an X after the selected titles.  Then I’d present the order form to my dad and, without hesitation, he’d write a check or give me cash.  The next day I’d hand over the envelope to my teacher and several weeks later, come in from recess to find a stack of books on my desk.

Some of my old Scholastic Book Club books

The entire process felt magical.

I’m not the only one with fond Scholastic Book Club memories.  Jennifer Hubbard says “I got a bunch of Marguerite Henry books, also one called A PLACE AND A TIME that I read to pieces.”  She still has a few of them.

Robin Prehn specifically remembers getting THE WESTING GAME when she was in 4th grade.  “I devoured it,” she says.

Cynthia Lord recalls “the excitement of carrying the envelope back to school, tipping it back and forth to feel the coins rolling in the envelope.”  She still has some of those books with her name written in “loopy childish cursive inside the front cover.”

Laura Hamor’s childhood purchasing power was limited to rubber pinky balls from the five and dime store, “Until, oh glory day!  The Scholastic Book order came to school. And my mother said, ‘Yes.’ YES! I could pick a book!”

During those book order years, I didn’t realize I was doubly fortunate.  Not only could I buy the books I wanted, but I lived in a household that valued reading.  We had multiple bookshelves and I identified as a reader.  I dabbled in gymnastics, marching band, and curling (yes, the shuffleboard-on-ice sport), but reading was for life.

A recent op-ed piece reinforces the notion that when children build their personal libraries, they self-identify as readers.  Public libraries are absolutely essential for our communities, but as Stephanie Blake said, “I checked out and read stacks of books each week, but was always sad when it was time to take them back.”  She wanted her own books so badly she’d cut out the order form and paste it into her notebook, checking off the books she dreamed of owning.  In a perfect world, every child would have a collection of books to read on her own timeline.

When I solicited input for this post, I expected only happy book club memories.  Naïve, I know.  Instead, I discovered many of my peers came from families that struggled financially, or had parents who considered books a waste of money.  Those children felt like outsiders on book order days.  Melodye Shore likened the book order form to “the Sears Gift Catalog – all wishes, but nothing obtainable.”

But as adults, many are creating happy book club memories through children.  Melodye donates books to disadvantaged youth, and Brian Terbest says, “Now I overcompensate for my children and let them buy every time–multiple books, in fact.”  And Stephanie Blake told me, “My kids know I can’t say NO to a book.”

The positive outlook seems to be that those who were denied want to create a different literary future for their kids, and those of us fortunate enough to grow up with our own books want to continue that legacy.

Because my kids know they also have a mother who can’t say NO to a book, we have bulging bookcases.  And my sons and I want to share.

A sample of recent book club additions

So, if you’re a child yearning for books, or if you know such a child, please leave a comment below and on Saturday we’ll draw one name.  The winner will get an assortment of brand new and gently read middle-grade books.  The not-new books will come from my kids’ Scholastic Book Club library.

I’m grateful for the book club that visited my classroom each month, and so is Kelly Fineman.  Her family struggled, but she says, “As an adult, I know that the reason those books were purchased at all was because they were affordable every now and again.”

And guess what?  We’re readers and writers.

When Tracy Abell isn’t hooping or trail running in the foothills of the Rocky Mountains, she’s writing contemporary middle-grade fiction.  And trying to squeeze a few more books onto her shelves.

Tracy Abell
  1. I can still remember those book clubs. I adore them, and this blog. And I know I’m too late for the entry, but I had to say it.

  2. Melina, thank YOU for all you do to promote reading.

    Portia, school lunch or books? I’m with you on the books! (Sorry about the bully-girls messing with you).

    Allison, thanks for entering on behalf of that perfect student. Wish I had books for all the needy kids out there.

  3. Thanks for this great giveaway! I have the perfect student in mind!

  4. Great post…brought back quite a few memories for me! Here’s one I will never forget:

    Seventh grade. Braces. Glasses. You know the drill. My book order envelope with clinking change and a few precious bills was buried in the bottom of my purse. I went to the bathroom before my Kentucky History class. Two substantially larger 8th grade girls “mugged” me in the bathroom–yes, in little, old Madisonville, Kentucky. They pushed me up against the sink, looked down at me with my humongous stack of school books crushed to my chest, and demanded I give them money.

    I knew that envelope was down in that bag. But I knew my lunch money was in there, too. Need I say what those girls got that day? A paltry $1.25 (or whatever lunch cost in 1974). The books were ordered. The books were read.

    I could go without lunch every single day of my life if necessary to have books on my shelf.

    Thanks for giving away books–don’t enter me in the contest–spread the love around!

  5. I love ordering Scholastic books from school. My brother and I go crazy wanting ALL the books on the order sheets. It is so fun!

    Thank you for sharing some of your own books too. That is very sweet.

    Please don’t enter me in the contest.

  6. Wow. I’m so touched by all these memories of the book club, and of the many ways you all work to get books to young readers. I wish I could send books to each and every one of you. Thank you for all you’re doing to help kids build their own libraries. I’m mulling over ways to get some of these specific ideas for book sharing out into the world so more kids will have their own books; maybe another post aimed specifically at this issue.

    If any of you have other suggestions (classroom books swaps, school swaps, etc), please leave those ideas here. I was so excited to learn SBC now offers $1 books because I don’t remember that being the case when I was a classroom teacher, and that alone could make a huge difference. I also love the idea of swapping books, but wonder if anyone has experience doing that several times a school year (so kids could get several books throughout the year).

    Again, thank you for taking the time to share your stories. You brought tears to my eyes and filled my heart with warm, happy feelings.

  7. I’m a huge fan of the Scholastic Book Clubs! I teach middle graders and each month we all take time to pour over the newsprint flyers and pick our favorites. Some take their wish lists home and return with an order, but for those of whom I know are unable to have their wishes granted at home, I grant them at school!

    We create a classroom library wish list and with “bonus points” earned from other orders or for my own order, I select books for our classroom from that list. When the new books come in, I book talk them and it’s like Christmas every month! Everyone has a chance to get something from the order.

  8. I love Scholastic — always have. That and Weekly Reader book clubs. I was allowed 1-2 books each order as a child — and now that I have kids, I let them order, too — though we homeschool. I’m so thankful Scholastic book clubs are homeschool-friendly. It’s one experience of public schools our kids don’t have to miss.

  9. A friend just remembered the title of the book I mentioned about — about an African American boy adopted by a white family. It was Edgar Allen! Not Ethan. 🙂 I loved that book.

  10. Thanks for a wonderful article. I, too, cannot say no to books when it comes to me or my kids (and yes, my girls know it!) I know this year I didn’t order as many books as usual this year because of tight funds too, but I hope that will change this year. My favlorite Scholastic memories are from 7th grade, when my English teacher Mr. Small would talk about each book featured in the flyer. That’s how I read a lot of classics like “Call of the Wild” and “Tom Sawyer”. Mr. Small made every book sound wonderful, and I just couldn’t get enough.

    One idea I’d like to share–my daughter’s school librarian started an end of the year book swap 2 years ago. Kids bring in books they have outgrown to school on designated days. Parent volunteers sort the books by type and reading level. Then each child (whether or not they brought in a book or not) gets to choose at least one book to take home. This ensures that every child will have at least one book to read over the summer. Kids who bring in more than one book to swap are allowed to choose 2 books. This year, the remainder of books were being shipped to Africa with a school family who will be living there during the coming year. The school there had few books in English. I love the swap and am glad our school librarian is so committed to keeping kids reading out of school what.

  11. I still love the Scholastic Book Club. One of the benefits of having a kid in middle school. I can’t say no either. I’d love to win and would donate at least some of them to our middle school that no longer has much money to buy books nor do many of the kids there. So they’d go to a good cause.

  12. Oh, how I loved Scholastic Book Order Day when I was in school back in the 60s. We also had the Scholastic Book Mobile come once a year — I lived for those visits! We’d bring money and we could actually buy books and and take them home that very day. My favorite Scholastic Book memories include “Striped Ice Cream,” and another book — I’ve forgotten the title, but it was about a young African American boy who was adopted by a white family. My own children have accumulated enough books to fully stock the children’s section of our public library. I’m giving them away as my children grow older, but some I’ll always keep. This was my last year with a child in elementary school, so it’s likely my last as the classroom Scholastic Book Order Mom. This was an especially bittersweet year, as far as Scholastic Book Orders went. I passed out the order forms every month, but only received a total of six over the course of the whole year – and three were for my daughter. I think many of our families struggled to make ends meet this year, and didn’t have funds for even one or two Scholastic Books. My child’s teacher said this was the first year that she didn’t get multiple book orders every month.

    Please enter me in the drawing on behalf of my three nephews. Money is short in their family, but they are all bright boys who like to read. We’ve given them just about all the “boy” books we have.


  13. This piece brought back many fond memories from the excitement of getting to purchase “only one book” a month from Scholastic book orders to visiting the bookmobile each summer and riding home with my bike basket overflowing with books. To help each child feel excited about book orders coming in, I try to use my bonus points and money donated from other parents, to purchase the $1 books so that EVERY child receives a new book when the book orders arrive. The children love to read these books and exchange them in our classroom “Take-a-book/Leave-a-book” box. Thank you, Scholastic, for continuing to offer QUALITY literature at an affordable price.

  14. I love books!!! As a speech-language therapist, I love using books in my speech and language therapy. Literacy is soooo important. Children should not be deprived of books!! I always loved getting the book orders as a child and when my own children started school and started bringing book orders home I was super excited!!! I think it is very generous of you to donate your used books. My students and my own children (ages 11 and 13) will absolutely love them.

  15. I’m in charge of an elementary school library and hold a Scholastic book fair every year . . . I love it when the whole family comes in and how excited the kids are choosing their books. I’d love to win the books to use as prizes in our annual read-a-thon (there are many kids at my school who can’t even afford Scholastic books).