School Book Club Flyers from the Past part 2, Weekly Reader!


By Shawn Robare

So this week I thought I’d dig a little deeper into the whole school book club flyer phenomenon of the 80s while also taking a look at one of the more recognizable clubs, Weekly Reader.  Again, all of these scans come from the personal collection of the Evil King Macrocranios, or Steve if you prefer, to whom I am indebted.

When I was originally looking for some examples of these book club flyers to share them, I was a bit uncertain as to who the actual companies were that produced them in the 80s.  After doing a little digging there were a few names that sprang up, namely Weekly Reader and Scholastic, but I know that there were others that I remembered more fondly like Troll and Arrow.  This past week I shared a few Troll flyers, and I’ll have some Arrow flyers to post about next week.  The big question that was still sort of hovering over all of this for me was were these all difference companies, or were they just different imprints aimed at certain regions or age levels there were all from the same corporation?  Turns out, it’s a little bit of both.

From what I can gather off the fine print of the various Weekly Reader and Scholastic websites, back in the 80s there was a whole bunch of different companies distributing discount books through catalog flyers in classrooms.  Some of the services, like Troll, seemed to be more concentrated on liquidating discount books, while others (namely Weekly Reader) seemed to be interested in selling books as well as distributing their own branded periodicals providing news and articles for teachers and students.  Over the last 20-odd years there has been a lot of focus-shifting and consolidation and there seems to be only two companies left, Scholastic (who bought up a lot of other clubs like Troll and Trumpet) and Weekly Reader who seem to have strayed away from regular book distribution and begun offering mostly their own branded products (teaching aids, study books, and WR non-fiction picture books for young kids.)  These days Scholastic provides a whole slew of book club flyers aimed at various age groups and it appears that they’ve also taken over most if not all of the in-school book fairs, but we’ll talk a little more about that next week.   This week it’s all about the Weekly Reader…

These WR book club flyers were distributed as a part of the Weekly Reader Eye periodical handout, and were a bit different in terms of layout and advertising.  Again, there seemed to be a dual motive with this company in that they seemed to want to educate as much, if not more, than they wanted to distribute books in the classrooms.  Another variation of their magazine was called Senior Weekly Reader and seemed to delve into some much more adult topics and current events including the crack epidemic, the Challenger disaster, homelessness and the government’s plans to create an anti-nuclear missile defense system in space.  All of this seems pretty heady for preteens who were most likely more concerned about whether or not their friends would think they were dorks because they still wanted to order Choose Your Own Adventure books in middle school…

You have to hand it to the publishers though, they were trying their best to not write down to middle-school-aged kids.   Actually that reminds me of similar memories I have of watching the fledgling Channel 1 in my homeroom when we had TVs installed in our high school class rooms back in the early 90s.  The snippets of news stories seemed to be almost on par with what my mom and dad were watching on the evening news.  Of course it bored me to tears back in the day, but there’s a part of me that appreciates what they were trying to do education-wise now that I’m a little older. 

Anyway, back to the meat of this post and on to our first Weekly Reader book club flyer, which is from November of 1984…

The first thing I noticed while flipping through these was a slightly less commercial feel to the design.  They’re printed in mostly black and white with a single accent color that I’m sure was intended to lessen the printing cost (which was mostly likely deferred to help supply the news portion of these handouts.)  They’re also a bit less shilly in that it was much easier to obtain the “free” posters as you only had to buy a single book instead of the requisite three from clubs like Troll.  These flyers also had a secondary, longer term, incentive program in what they called PaperBucks.  For every item that you purchased from the catalogs you’d received one of these Paperbucks (see the 4th page of the flyer below for an image) which could be saved up to “pay” for specialty items like sticker sheets, plush dolls, instant cameras and posters…

    

This flyer also has some pretty damn nifty offerings including one of the Mr. T Antioch sticker books (featuring stickers with B.A. Baracus skiing), another of the Serendipity books by Brian Cosgrove (called Morgan and Me), a Masters of the Universe picture book (always loved the art in these), a Fraggle Rock poster and an offer for 100 stickers for only $0.75!  Oh, to go back in time with 5 bucks and access to one of these flyers…

Next up is the December 1984 flyer/insert…

This flyer also has some great books, but what really got me excited was the offer for a sticker collecting wallet for only $0.95.  I’ve seen official sticker collecting books, photo albums, stapled together sheets of construction paper, and even childhood furniture used to house a sticker collection, but never a wallet.  How neat would it have been to whip out a bill fold to show off your stickers on the go?!?

  

There’s also an interesting special offer on the Garfield collection in this flyer which comes with four Garfield branded brown paper lunch sacks.  However neat these would have been to carry my lunch to school when I was in-between lunch boxes or in that gray area where I was getting too old to bring a lunch box, they still seem like a pretty weird thing to bundle with a comic strip collection.  It’s like winning a contest and getting new socks or something.  Practical, but not exciting…

The last flyer I have for both today and for the Weekly Readers was released back in February of 1985…

This flyer is chock full of awesome swag including a Go Bots picture book (featuring art by none other than Steve “Spiderman” Ditko), another Serendipity book (Flutterby), and a sweet Break Dancing poster…

  

There were also a couple of interesting Choose Your Own Adventure style books with offers for an Indiana Jones Find Your Fate paperback and one for one of the more obscure brands, Wizards, Warriors, & You.

Last, but certainly not least, we have a handful of Weekly Reader posters which were a bit different than their counterparts in the Troll book club flyers.  Granted, I’m only going on a selection of three flyers from each club as reference, but the Weekly Reader posters seem to be a little less generic.  Not only do they feature some pop culture icons like E.T., the cast of the Empire Strikes Back and Wicket from Return of the Jedi, but even the goofy kitten and puppy posters are a little neater with printed titles on them.  These posters often featured ads for books on the back as well…

  

Next week I’ll be back with a closer look at the Scholastic book club called Arrow…

  • http://wings1295.blogspot.com/ Wings

    Wow. Again, so many memories. Just loved looking through these each week, even if I couldn’t always get something. Cool stuff.

  • https://devlinthompson.blogspot.com Devlin Thompson

    Xerox also ran a book club program for a while in the ’70s… possibly one of the familiar names, but only the Xerox logo is printed on the books I’ve seen.

  • http://pleasesavemerobots.blogspot.com/ Esteban

    Once again your observations add new dimensions to my appreciation of this stuff. These don’t seem to have popped up much on the internet in the past few decades but maybe you’ve shaken the tree a little with these posts and raised some awareness. I really hope somebody else comes forward with more. I can’t for the life of me remember if Weekly Reader was the only way to get these stickers, posters and activity books or if a lot of this stuff was readily available on the shelves and spinner racks at retail stores back then. But I think the posters at least were Weekly Reader exclusives and I find that possibility intriguing. It’s also frightening. If Weekly Reader posters were collectible then I wonder what other kinds of images they licensed? If they had Star Wars and My Little Pony maybe they also had other brands. I don’t want to think about it. I only wish I had some of those PaperBucks lying around. I remember having tons of those. Hold on-that Empire Strikes Back poster has Boba Fett shooting with blue flame coming out of his rocket pack. I don’t remember that being in the movie. All of those other scenes are lifted from the movie but Boba Fett is doing something I don’t remember him doing in that exact pose at all!

  • Maggie L

    Very neat! I had the E.T. Poster on my wall as a kid. I even had a E.T novel that went along with the movie, both from weekly reader. I actually had books from flyers. Memories, wow, wish I still had some of them.