Thirty years ago, the first Blockbuster video store opened, Coca-Cola introduced New Coke to the world, and Madonna was at the top of her game. Thirty years ago, Pizza Hut’s president had a son who was struggling with reading, and who also loved pizza. Thirty years ago, the BOOK IT! Program was born.
Book It! celebrated this major milestone with the launch of National Reading month and the end of the nomination period for this year’s Connect with Effect Award. The Flavor Buzz news team caught up with last year’s award winner, Patty Paolillo, to talk about the program. Here are some highlights from the BOOK IT! 30 year anniversary, as well as some new milestones we can look forward to in the next 30 years.
National Reading Month and Alumni Program
March is National Reading Month, and Pizza Hut is encouraging Book It! alums to share their love of reading with children in their lives. Using the hashtag #BOOKITkid, participants will have the chance to win a free Personal Pan Pizza and a retro Book It! t-shirt. The goal of the campaign is to inspire Book It! fans to read to the kids in their lives for 20 minutes, at home, at school, or by volunteering.
National Reading Month adds to the momentum of the BOOK IT! official alumni program, which kicked off in October 2014; so far, more than 440,000 people have signed up as alumni over the past 5 months.
Program Manager Shelley Morehead is enthusiastic about the alumni program’s success. “The BOOK IT! 30th anniversary celebration has received passionate, positive responses from the program’s alumni. During National Reading Month, Pizza Hut is encouraging alumni to become even more active in their support for the program by sharing the love of reading with children in their lives.”
Connect with Effect Champion Award
March 2nd marked the end of the nomination window for this year’s BOOK IT! Connect with Effect award, a prize for the top RGM who goes above and beyond to make reading special for students in their local community. We received nearly twice as many nominations this year as in 2014, great growth for only the second year this award has been given. The Flavor Buzz sat down with last year’s winner, Patty Paolillo, to get her perspective on why the award is so special.
Q. How did you get started with the BOOK IT! program?
A. I started in 1991, when my girls were little. They started doing the BOOK IT! program and I started working for Pizza Hut around the same time. They liked reading, and I was always in school volunteering for things, and I thought it was a great program to get kids to read. BOOK IT! was something I felt empowered to do. Now, my girls are thirty, twenty-nine, and thirteen. They all three love BOOK IT!. My youngest one—she did so well with the BOOK IT! goals, in 5th grade she read the whole Harry Potter series in less than three months. I think the program helped her go further in school: she scored high on her standardized tests and she won the President’s award with a letter from President Obama. She’s really doing well.
Q. What are some of your favorite parts of BOOK IT!, and how do you make it special for the kids?
A. The whole team gets involved at the restaurant, and the servers love it—they talk with the kids and ask them what they read, and make it fun. We’re having a really good time with that yearbook, too, the kids love it. We do a drawing at the restaurant for a free book. We’ve been honored to get autographed copies of The Diary of a Wimpy Kid this year. The kids are very excited to get one of those. I also go to the schools to talk about partnering with them for any initiatives they’re starting to launch, and I volunteer to read in schools when they have special reading days. This year I read to the third graders, and I’ve been nicknamed Pizza Patty for the past 20 years. I’m stuck with that name forever!
Q. What BOOK IT! activities do you have coming up?
A. On March 9 we’re doing a tip night where the teachers from Westside Elm will be waiting on tables. We call it the BOOK IT! bash. It’s a birthday party! Hopefully we get some alumni there too! The kids absolutely love it.
Q. What advice would you have for other RGMs looking to promote the BOOK IT! Program?
A. I would recommend that RGMs go to the school and talk to the teachers, tell them about the program and get them involved. If the teachers are excited, the kids will be excited. And for restaurants, I suggest they get excited with the kids—when kids come in for their pizza, high five them, talk to them. It only takes a few minutes, but it really makes a big huge difference. The kids are so proud and they’re so happy to tell you about reading, what they did in school and their accomplishments.
BOOK IT!’s future: Scholarship and App Launch
New Coke may no longer be a thing, and Blockbuster is a thing of the past, but BOOK IT! continues to grow. This year, the program is offering a $30,000 College Plan scholarship for current participants in the program, as well as debuting a new reading app to make it easier for students to track their progress.
The scholarship, to be awarded in May, will go to a student who has achieved all his or her reading goals within the six month BOOK IT! program period. To participate, students must redeem a monthly Reading Award Certificate good for a free Personal Pan Pizza, a Passport to Reading Award and a sticker for each monthly visit. Children with all six stickers can submit their passport for a chance to win the $30K College Plan. This is a one-time award in honor of the 30 year anniversary, but it has the potential to change one student’s life forever.
What else does BOOK IT! have planned for the future? This year, the BOOK IT! Reading app adds a new twist to reading: magical dragons! For every minute a kid spends reading, they earn gold coins in the app, which can be used to shop for dragon clothes and accessories and to take their dragon to new places. Teachers receive a progress report of each child’s reading session, making it easier than ever to keep track of individual goals and provide encouragement as needed.
Disclaimer: Blockbuster, Coca-Cola, and Coke are registered trademarks of their respective owners.