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Scholastic Criticized for Pushing Toys, Makeup in Book Clubs

School Library Journal
Debra Lau Whelan
February 11, 2009

If you’ve noticed the toys, jewelry, and other non-book items being sold by Scholastic in its elementary and middle school book club flyers, you’re not alone. A Boston-based advocacy group says the children’s publisher is abusing its position by peddling everything from games to makeup to classroom kids.

A review by the Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood (CCFC) found that one-third of the items for sale in these brochures are either not books or are books packaged with other items such as jewelry, video games, toys, or lip gloss.

"The opportunity to sell directly to children in schools is a privilege, not a right,” says CCFC’s director, Susan Linn, who has launched a letter-writing campaign urging Scholastic to stop using its school-based book clubs to sell these items.

Linn says schools grant Scholastic unique commercial access to children because of its reputation as an educational publisher. “But Scholastic is abusing that privilege by flooding classrooms across the country with ads for toys, trinkets, and electronic media with little or no educational value,” she adds.

The CCFC says it reviewed every item in Scholastic’s 2008 monthly flyers for two book clubs: Lucky Club for kids in second and third grade and Arrow Club for those in fourth through sixth grade. It found that some 14 percent of the items advertised were not books, including the M&M’s Kart Racing Wii videogame; a remote control car; the American Idol event planner; the Princess Room Alarm; a wireless controller for the PS2 gaming system; a make-your-own flip flops kit; and the Monopoly® SpongeBob SquarePants™ Edition computer game.

An additional 19 percent of the items for sale were books that were sold with additional toys, gadgets, or jewelry. For example, the book Get Rich Quick is sold with a dollar-shaped money clip; the Friends-4-Ever Style Pack consists of a book and two lip gloss rings; and Hannah Montana: Seeing Green comes with a guitar pick bracelet.

Judy Newman, president of Scholastic Book Clubs, however, says items such as the Captain Underpants box set that comes with a sticker, are considered educational because they help draw reluctant readers.

“The most important point that the report ignores is that about one million teachers and tens of millions of families choose Scholastic Book Clubs every month to buy quality books at low prices,” she says. “These educators and parents know all too well how hard it is to engage children with reading and if a sticker, a poster, or a science kit entices a child to become engaged with books and with learning, that is to be celebrated, not criticized.” Scholastic says there are no plans to stop selling these items.

More than three-quarters of elementary school teachers participate in Scholastic’s school-based book clubs by distributing and collecting flyers and order forms for their students. In the fiscal year 2008, Scholastic’s book clubs generated $336.7 million in revenue, and overall, Scholastic’s in-school sales account for approximately one-third of the company’s revenue, the CCFC says.

Last year, the CCFC—comprised of health care professionals, educators, and parents—led a campaign to stop Scholastic from promoting the Bratz brand in schools. The Bratz books are a spin-off of the highly popular 10-inch dolls, which have large heads, wide eyes, and full lips—and are often dressed in tight clothing, miniskirts, fishnet stockings, and feather boas. A complete list of the Scholastic non-book items and products sold with books can be found online.

 

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