The Pizza I Never Ate

When thinking about the best gift I have received as a writer, a lot of generic and cliché writer-gifts come to mind. Over the years, I have received countless notebooks and journals, pens, decorative paper and stationary, praise and encouragement, books on writing, and other office-y types of things. While these various possessions have been useful over the years, I don’t think any of them significantly contributed to my path as a writer. I think I really owe my success as a writer to my love of reading. Reading taught me everything I know about writing. Loving reading made me appreciate, and later love, writing as its own unique art form. And because of all of this, I must say that I owe all my success as a writer to Pizza Hut. Yes, Pizza Hut made me a writer.

When I was in third grade, my school participated in Pizza Hut’s Book It! program.  While some of the details have since escaped me, the gist of it is each month all the students in the class would pledge to read a certain amount of books. We had a special sheet to fill out with the name of the book, which our parents would sign when we finished reading. If we completed our goal, we could go to Pizza Hut for a free personal pizza. If the whole class reached their goal, then at the end of the year Pizza Hut would provide a pizza party for the class.

Each month our teacher would fill in a chart on the wall with the amount of books each of us would try to read. She would ask each student, marking the chart in alphabetical order. As my last name starts with “W,” I was always last and got to see what everyone else pledged to read. Most kids would say one or two books for the month. However, right from the beginning, there was one girl who always announced she would read three or four, always more than anyone else thought they could handle. She was the star pupil (and future valedictorian) and something in my little third grade self wanted to beat her. Her name was at the beginning of the alphabet, so each month I vowed to read more books than her. If she said five books, I said seven books, and by the end of the school year we were well into the upper 20’s each month.

Up until this time in my eight or so years of life, I was basically indifferent when it came to reading. I didn’t hate reading like some kids, but I didn’t exactly have a passion for it either. So when this “competition” began, it was my competitive drive that forced me to read more and more books. But that quickly changed. Because I initially pushed myself to read more often, it started becoming easier. I began reading faster, with more comprehension. The more I read, the more I felt I could read, and the more I wanted to. By forcing myself to read so much, I turned into the bookworm I am today. Every month I read more books, taking stacks out from the library, and spending each waking moment with my eyes racing from one page to the next. From this point on, there would never be one day in my life that I wasn’t reading a book. I had such a passion for stories that I began writing my own. In fact, later that same year I would have my first poem published in the school magazine.

Reading and writing will always go hand-in-hand for me. So I must thank Pizza Hut for my success. The funny thing is that despite meeting my reading goal every month, I never went to Pizza Hut for my pizza. My parents didn’t like Pizza Hut, so they wouldn’t take me. In fact, I never tried Pizza Hut pizza until much later in my life, but it didn’t matter. While some kids needed the reward of pizza to motivate themselves to read, I just needed the satisfaction of reading more than the smartest girl in the class. I no longer need motivation to read, and instead, I use reading as a reward to motivate myself to complete other obligations. The Book It! program was an opportunity for me that ended up literally changing my life. So thanks, Pizza Hut, for giving an eight-year-old girl the chance to fall in love with books.

Check out Pizza Hut’s Book It! program here:

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  • Leonard Grant says:

    I’m so glad to hear that another third-grader took a reading contest a little too seriously! Ours wasn’t sponsored by Pizza Hut; rather the teacher, Mrs. Shapiro, made a construction paper zoo on a bulletin board and assigned each student an animal. With each title read, the student’s animal grew. For instance, the giraffe’s neck would elongate. I was the fish, and by the end of the contest (I forget the duration), my little guppy looked like an eel. For a kid who born without talent in kickball, freeze tag, and wall ball (I could go on), this contest was a godsend.

    Contests like ours raise a couple important questions about literacy education. What are they teaching students about reading? How can contests demonstrate the real world importance of reading to students?

    I believe that literacy is its own gift, but not all would agree with me, and especially not reluctant elementary school readers. Some students, like you and me, are motivated by such competitions, but others are not. Those who fall behind their avid reader peers may give up. I like that your program required students to set and meet individual goals. Moreover, contests promote a version of self-sponsored reading that can become habitual. As literacy brokers, we should have numerous tools at our disposal to reach all types of readers, and (almost) any pedagogical strategy that encourages young readers to explore their personal interests is fine by me.

  • Nicole Wittenburg says:


    I wonder how many other bookworms had similar experiences in elementary school. I think that with the ever-increasing temptation of video games and technology, helping children find motivation to read (or dare I say, choose reading over video games in free time??) is more and more important! If pizza or animals work, full steam ahead, I say!

  • danielle rettino says:

    I also participated in the Book It! program in elementary school. I grew up out West so I’m not sure if it was the same, but the mascot for our Book It! program was a worm, ahem, a bookworm. When I was little I loved bugs, so this thrilled me. I was already an avid reader because I had no siblings and moved often, so books were an easy source of fun and fantasy that I could take anywhere. Their bookworm helped to get me reading in public. I simply did not have enough books to participate on my own so I had to become a member of the library. I had never been into a library before and I feel that that experience really helped to shape me as a reader and later as a writer by introducing me to the variety of books available. The program was a great asset not only for hesitant readers, but also for shy readers, of which I was one. Thanks for reminding me of this excellent program!


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