Sunday, November 20, 2011

The Scholastic Book Club

A few blog posts ago, (click here) I reminisced about the beauty of the Landmark series of American history books for children. Today, I was reminded of another great contribution to children's reading, The Scholastic Book Club.

The reminder comes via this blog post, written by Roger Kimball, who talks about a Washington Post book reviewer name Michael Dirda. Dirda has a new book out, and in it he recalls the incredible joy he would feel as a child when it came time to order from the Scholastic Book Club:

Each month Mr. Jackson would pass out a four-page newsletter describing several dozen paperbacks available for purchase. “Lying on my bed at home,” Drida recalls, “I lingered for hours over these news print catalogues, carefully making my final selections.”

The care was dictated in part by the budget imposed by Dirda’s mother, who stipulated a monthly budget of no more than 4 of the 25-35-cent books. Each month, Mr. Jackson sent in the class order. “Then in the middle of some dull afternoon, … a teacher’s aide would open the classroom door and silently drop off a big, heavily taped parcel. … Sometimes we would be made to wait an entire day, especially if the package had been delivered close to the three o’clock bell when school let out.”

But sooner or later, the swag was distributed and then Dirda, like his classmates, would

methodically appraise each volume’s art work, read and reread its back cover, carefully investigate the delicate line of glue at the top edge of the perfect bound spines. … To this day I can more or less recall the newsletter’s capsule summary that compelled me to buy The Hound of the Baskervilles. … “What was it that emerged from the moor at night to spread terror and violent death?” What else, of course, but a monstrous hound from the bowels of hell?

I had the same experience, over and over again, when those little Scholastic Book Service order forms came out, and the same argument with my dad over how many I could buy. I'm not sure Hound of the Baskervilles was ever one of my selections, because I was given that and other Sherlock Holmes books by a relative, but I know that over the years I ordered dozens and dozens of those little paperbacks, and I don't ever remember being disappointed by any one of them. There were many, many sports books, of course, and I was also quite taken with the exploits of a bright young kid named Encyclopedia Brown, who was great at solving mysteries.

The story also struck a chord with John Hinderaker over at Powerline, who wrote this about his experience growing up in Watertown, S.D in a post titled "The Most Exciting Box in the World."

But it seems like yesterday: our teacher would, as Roger says, pass out a newsletter or catalog that listed and described the books available for order. I pored over that catalog for hours, studying the descriptions and wondering about the books. I would carefully make my choices after discussing them with my friends–you may say that I was a little weird, but I wasn’t the only one, to paraphrase John Lennon–and some weeks later the box would arrive.

It was the highlight of the year. Better even than Christmas, because this box didn’t contain underwear or socks; it contained only books–not only that, but the books we had chosen ourselves. The minutes in which the box was opened and the books were distributed to the kids who had ordered them were the most exciting of my youth.

I know the Scholastic Book Club still exists, although I'm not sure if it still distributes books the same way or if the Internet has taken over the process, but it was an incredible part of my childhood. Daughter Corrie, now a librarian, apparently inherited the same love of reading, and the gene appears to have been passed on to the grandkids as well, which is one of the few of my traits that I hope they have.

1 comment:

  1. Oh yes, the white and red box still arrives for teachers to open and distribute. I think the only difference is that teachers can place their order for the class online instead of sending in a paper form by mail. Anne loves bringing home her "book order" from preschool!