Reflections on the Weekly Reader Book Club

I received a package from the other day with a bunch of books I ordered. I tend to order three or more books at once from Amazon. I “stock up” on the books I am looking forward to reading. I only buy books that I have had on my Wish List for awhile. I have a 6-page Wish List so I won’t run out of candidates for purchase anytime soon. But when I opened the box up, I had a flashback to my childhood and the excitement of receiving a package from the Weekly Reader Book Club.

For those of you who don’t know what I am talking about or, more likely, don’t remember grade school very well, the Weekly Reader Book Club was a great way for kids to buy books for very low prices. Once a month or so the Weekly Reader Book Club “catalog” would come out and the teacher would give each student a copy. The catalog was basically a five or six page flyer which listed several dozen kid’s books. The books were sold at a special scholastic price which meant that you could get your next Choose Your Own Adventure book or Motorcycle Mouse for somewhere between 50 cents and 2 dollars or so.

I was always really excited when the catalog came because I always ordered something. Or I should say, that my mom always ordered something for me. I would take the catalog home and then spend hours analyzing it, trying to decide which books I definitely needed to advance my studies. Then I would spend more time coming up with arguments that I could use to persuade my parents (this was usually a mom thing) to buy the books. I had to have their collaboration because they held the almighty checkbook (Weekly Reader did not accept cash). Once my defense had been properly prepared, I would launch into a passionate oratory that the Founding Fathers would be proud of. However, usually the final book choices were tempered with proper parental guidance. This typically meant less of Clifford the Big Red Dog and more of Ramona Quimby, Age 8 but I was just happy to be getting new books. My original order of 20 books or so would also be appropriately whittled down to 2 or 3. Thinking back, that was probably my first experience with the good cop, bad cop routine. Mom would be on my side as the good cop and Dad would play bad cop, arguing that I didn’t need so many books, that I wouldn’t have time to read that many of them in a month. Inevitably the order size would decrease to that preordained amount that Mom and Dad had already decided together. Such tricky parents!

After the check was written (and it was a big deal if more than $8 or $9 was spent on a single order) I would take the check and the order to school and give it to the teacher. Unfortunately, there was always a two week window during which the teacher collected these orders. All of the orders were sent together as a single classroom order. I, of course, turned in my order on Day 2 or something like that and was always forced to wait those anxious days while other kids took their sweet time in getting their orders in. Finally the order would go out and another waiting period would begin.

Eventually, after several eternities, a big box would be delivered to class one day. I couldn’t wait to get that box open and see the literary treasures that awaited me within. Typically, though, the teacher would say something about getting to it after the main lessons for the day were over. AFTER?!?!?!?! Couldn’t she see how much more important this was??? Sheesh. But sooner or later, the box came open and I got my goodies.

So now I get boxes in the mail and I get the same excited feeling. There is one thing missing, though. Back when I was a kid, getting the books was a way of being special. Getting books from the Weekly Reader Book Club was a statement that my parents cared about me and wanted to get me these things. And it was a public thing - every kid knew that the kids who got books had parents that cared. My parents always came through. I don’t remember any time when I didn’t get at least one book. I even remember when the box came and only had books in it for me. It wasn’t a money thing - these books were only 50 cents to a dollar. It was a care thing. And my parents let me and everyone else know, every month, that they cared about me. It’s one of my best childhood memories.