So what is the BOOK IT! Program, exactly? In 1984, a Pizza Hut President by the name of Art Gunther began the search of finding a way to motivate his son, a struggling reader, to read more. He decided to take his son to work with him for a slice of pizza and some one-on-one time. He found that the combination of praise, recognition and just a dash of pepperoni was all it took to instill a love of reading in his child.
Feeling that he was on to something, he got a team of experts together to develop a program around this idea. It needed to be something big, something that was designed by educators, implemented by teachers and encouraged by parents.
At the time of its inception, parents’ increasing concern with declining standards in the public educational system, the alarming fact that there were at least 23 million adult Americans whose reading and writing skills varied from almost none to a 4th grade level; and the challenge issued to businesses by President Reagan to form partnerships with education made leaders at Pizza Hut, Inc. even more convinced that this was the right thing to do. And so they did.
In 1985, the team met with a number of education associations including the Kansas National Education Association, the Parents/Teachers Association, the Association of School Boards, elementary school principals, teachers and librarians, the Kansas chapter of the International Reading Association, and the governor of the state to gain insights in what the program’s focuses should be.
After receiving encouragement and endorsement from the Private Sector Initiative organization, Secretary of Education William Bennett, and major educational organization, the BOOK IT! program was born!
On November 8, 1989, Pizza Hut, along with the Center for the Book in the Library of Congress sponsored the “Year of the Young Reader” and established National Young Readers Day (later to become National Young Readers Week). First Lady Barbara Bush who was the honorary chairperson of the year-long celebration held festivities at the White House to mark the celebration. Plans were made to establish a time capsule to be housed at the Library of Congress to illustrate the state of education and literacy of the time.
Students from all 50 states were asked to write a letter addressed to “Dear Young Reader” naming their favorite book, telling why it is a favorite and why a child in the year 2089 would want to read this book. Fifty letters were selected from among the national entries by a panel of educational and literacy experts and one year later, the time capsule was built. Items placed in the time capsule included first edition publications, audio/video cassettes, students’ award-winning poster art and more.
The BOOK IT! Program expanded to include Kindergartners in 1990 and allowed teachers and parents the ability to read to the younger age group to reach their reading goals. In the fall of 2000, the program another month, going from a five month program to a sixth month program that runs from October through March of each school year.
In 2007, America’s Biggest Bedtime Story brought children from across America together to read and be read-to by a celebrity reader. In 2012, the annual event brought over 1.7 million viewers with Quarterback Tim Tebow reading Dr. Seuss’ Green Eggs and Ham and was renamed America’s Biggest Storytime. Other celebrity readers have included actor John Lithgow, pop-star Justin Bieber.
It’s 2012, and BOOK IT! continues to be a partner with over 40,000 schools across the nation in the important task of laying a strong foundation for reading. We’re proud, as well as humbled, by this. The first generation of BOOK IT! kids are now key players in the task as they share their own experience and memories with their kids - the second generation – now walking the halls…reading their hearts out.