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.
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.
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.