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Scholastic sales pitch draws criticism

Marketing toys at school under fire

The Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood says about a third of the items for sale in Scholastic's book clubs were either not books or were books packaged with other items. The Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood says about a third of the items for sale in Scholastic's book clubs were either not books or were books packaged with other items. (Scholastic Corp. Via Associated Press)
Associated Press / February 10, 2009
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NEW YORK - Scholastic Corp., the US publisher of the Harry Potter books, has come under criticism from a children's advocacy group for using its vast, venerable network of school-based book clubs to market toys and other noneducational items.

The world's largest publisher and distributor of children's books, Scholastic earned nearly $337 million last year from the book clubs, which it inaugurated in 1948. The company estimates that three-quarters of US elementary school teachers - and more than 2.2 million children - participate annually in the clubs.

Over the decades, the program has won praise for encouraging children to read by offering discounted books they order through their teachers, who in turn can qualify for further deals on books and other classroom materials.

However, the Boston-based Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood - a national coalition of educators, healthcare professionals, and parents - launched a protest campaign yesterday, asserting that Scholastic has exploited its access to schools by marketing an array of nonbook products in its monthly book club fliers.

Items pitched to elementary school students include M&M's Kart Racing Wii video game, an "American Idol" event planner, the SpongeBob SquarePants Monopoly computer game, lip gloss rings, Nintendo's Baby Pals video game, Hannah Montana posters, and the Spy Master Voice Disguiser.

The campaign said about one-third of the items for sale in Scholastic's elementary and middle school book clubs were either not books or were books packaged with other items such as jewelry, toys, and makeup. The group is running a e-mail campaign to urge Scholastic officials to make changes.

Judy Newman, a Scholastic executive vice president who oversees the book clubs, defended the program and indicated it would not be changed in response to the protest. The toys and other nonbook items were included in the fliers primarily to help spark student interest in the books, she said.

"We're losing kids' interest [in reading]. We have to keep them engaged," Newman said.

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