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Book It! Buttons and the Symbol of Reading Progress

Book It Stars Lenticular Button
Book It with Swirls Button retrieved from Busy Beaver Button Museum

     BOOK IT! is a National Reading Incentive Program created in 1984 by The Pizza Hut Company. The objective of BOOK IT! is to encourage reading in schools across the nation by rewarding students for meeting individual reading goals. The program was developed after President Ronald Reagan called on American businesses advocating them to get involved in education. Inspired by Reagan’s initiative, the then-president of Pizza Hut, Arthur Gunther, developed a program focused on reading. He met with educators in Kansas to help him carry out the details of a program that would encourage students to read and help them advance their reading skills and the Pizza Hut Book It! program was created. Gunther spoke publicly about the inception of the program as being inspired by his son Michael who had difficulty with reading due to eye complications he had growing up. The program was initially tested in Kansas schools where it was a huge success. Just one year after its initial roll out in 1984, BOOK IT! went nationwide with more than 7 million grade school students across 233,080 classrooms participating in the program. Just one year into BOOK IT!, Gunther reported that three quarters of participating students exceeded their reading level, an estimated $50 million in free pizzas was awarded, and $2.7 million was designated to printed awards. President Ronald Reagan was so enamored by the success of the program that he sent a personal message to the company stating, “During this 'Year of the Reader,' we can all reflect that reading is essential to the vitality of the mind and to the success and accomplishment of almost every endeavor. As the Book-It Program prepares for yet another tremendous year of bringing the gift of reading to youngsters, I want to commend all those associated with the program for the outstanding work you do. Your efforts give help and inspiration to many and strengthen our Nation. I salute you.”

Book It 10th Birthday button
Book It 10th Birthday from Busy Beaver Button Museum

     The intention of the program is quite simple: honor students for completing personal monthly reading goals with certificates of recognition awarding them one free personal pan pizza. When the program first began, Pizza Hut gave participants large pinback buttons designed with five designated spaces for stickers which indicated the number of books completed by the student. A small gold star sticker was awarded for each book that was read. A button full of five gold stickers earned a student a free personal pizza. Between the 1980s and 1990s, there were a number of different BOOK IT! button designs each created with designated areas for gold stickers. A particularly unique button was designed in 1994 in honor of BOOK IT!’s tenth annual program. The button depicts caricatures holding pizzas with candles sticks in them and an illustration of a banner reading 10th birthday. Each candlestick is a placeholder for a gold sticker. Although the designated areas for gold stickers are no longer commonly seen on BOOK IT! buttons in present day, there are over a dozen different designs students can choose from. In recent years, a nostalgia for the buttons has developed. Websites like eBay have a plethora of buttons dating back to the 80s and 90s for sale as collectible items. BOOK IT! merchandise and collectibles have grown to include items like T-shirts, coffee mugs, and other accessories beyond the buttons and certificates that first made the program noticeable.

     Over the years, BOOK IT! has received recognition from celebrities, politicians, scholars, educators, and even appeared in an episode of Small Wonder, a primetime television series from the mid-1980s. In the sitcom episode, two students finish their reading assignment by creating a book report comparing Robin Hood to Mr. T., which then earns them a free pizza. On October 3, 1988, Arkansas Governor Bill Clinton issued an official proclamation declaring it BOOK IT! Day. In 1999, a paper studying the BOOK IT! program was published in Psychological Record, a peer reviewed scientific journal. The paper titled, “Effects of extrinsic reinforcement for reading during childhood on reported reading habits of college students,” examined how extrinsic motivators, such as pizza, affect the reading behaviors of students while determining whether extrinsic rewards negatively impacted later reading habits. The findings of the paper determined there is no support that extrinsic rewards for reading undermine interest in reading, rather rewards facilitate the development of interest in reading. A webcast program created in 2007 by BOOK IT! called “America’s Biggest Bedtime Story” hosted celebrities like pop-singer, Justin Bieber, actor John Lithgow, and football quarterback Timothy Tebow reading their favorite children's book out loud to viewers. The creation of the webcast was in response to a survey which revealed nearly half of all American parents do not have the nightly tradition of reading to their children before bed.

     While BOOK IT! initially began with public schools, the program has expanded to include private and charter schools as well as homeschooled students. The way the program functions has also changed. Today, teachers have the option to personalize reading goals based on the individual needs of their students, such as reading levels and pace. The program has expanded to include an online summer reading initiative called Camp BOOK IT! that runs from June to August. Camp BOOK IT! consists of reading activities, individual reading goals, and book recommendations. In 2016, BOOK IT! teamed up with First Book, a non-profit social enterprise to establish The Literacy Project Fundraising Campaign. The campaign raises awareness for literacy related issues and provides free books to children in communities of need across the nation. All proceeds raised go back into the project with a portion allocated to educators as credit for books. Through the use of social media platforms, BOOK IT! continues its commitment to encourage reading. Via Instagram, Facebook, or Twitter, one can find the latest happenings, be inspired, and share reading goal stories. Just as in 1984, The Pizza Hut BOOK IT! Program built on the incentive of free pizza continues to be an effective motivator to get children to read with participation reaching over 14 million students annually.


GmbH, f. (2021). Pizza Hut 'Starts A New Chapter' To Help All Kids Succeed Through Reading, Takes Further Action To Support Literacy Through Annual Giving Program. Retrieved 13 May 2021, from

Higgins, C. (2021). 10 Cheesy Facts About Pizza Hut's BOOK IT! Program. Retrieved 13 May 2021, from

Hut, P. (2021). BOOK IT!® Program Celebrates Record-Breaking Participation in America's Biggest Bedtime Story With Justin Bieber. Retrieved 13 May 2021, from

Kehoe, J., & Kehoe, J. (2021). Pizza Hut’s BOOK IT! Program: Celebrating 30 Years - Encyclopizzeria. Retrieved 13 May 2021, from

Walbert, M. (2021). Kids Can Still Earn Free Pizza Hut by Reading. Retrieved 13 May 2021, from