Reading incentive raises concern

Library program gave fast-food gift certificates as rewards
By: Luke Ramseth, Journal Correspondent
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At 12 years old, Hannah Brown already knows a thing or two about staying healthy. Rule No. 1? Stay away from fast food like Carl’s Jr., even if it’s free, she says. Hannah recently sent in a letter to the editor voicing her concerns over a teen reading program at the Auburn Public Library. The program rewarded teen readers who completed a certain number of novels or reading assignments with Carl’s Jr. gift certificates. “I think the Auburn Placer County Library is the best library ever,” Hannah wrote in her letter, “However, when I last went there, I noticed the summer reading program for teens. Teens love fast food, but it is so bad for their bodies! I have read numerous books over this summer, but because of the fast food certificates, I have decided not to do the summer program.” Hannah’s letter drummed up serious interest and concern, both with views and comments online at Sophie Bruno of the Auburn Library said she’s been following the attention her reading program has received. As the youth librarian, Bruno said she doesn’t have much flexibility in what she uses as incentive for kids and teens to read. But, she added that the Carl’s Jr. gift certificates aren’t the kids’ only option. “We have coffee mugs, book bags, free books and Round Table Pizza coupons, too,” she said. “The first things that go are the book bags and books.” Nevertheless, Bruno said plenty of kids also opt for the gift certificates to Carl’s Jr. and Round Table. Auburn resident and health advocate Brad Kearns says he’s concerned about Carl’s Jr. advertising its brand in something like a reading program. “Carl’s Jr. is a major player in the fast-food industry’s institutionalized exploitation of the American family,” Kearns wrote in an e-mail. “Corporate profits and instant gratification have disastrously compromised our health. The joy of reading itself should offer sufficient incentive.” Bruno explained that Carl’s Jr. and Round Table contacted her about the free coupons. With her budget tight, she wasn’t able to turn down some free coupons if it meant more incentive to read. “We could use anything, or something more healthy for incentive,” she said. “But the corporations are the ones that contact us.” Elsa Lemus is a manager at Carl’s Jr. on Hwy. 49, and she said she’s aware of the reading incentives her employer offers up. She personally sends gift certificates out to a similar reading program, called Passport to Reading, at Auburn Elementary School. Good readers are not only rewarded with a free Famous Star hamburger — all of its 590 calories and 32 grams of fat — but also they likely bring in more business in the form of parents and family members who buy additional items. “The kids order the Famous Star, but mom and dad order something else,” Lemus said. “It’s a nice way to bring in more business.” Lemus said she thinks reading incentives are worth it, even if it takes something as unhealthy as a hamburger to spark a teen’s interest. “I have two kids — (reading incentives) work for them. They want to get that incentive to read, whether it’s a free popsicle or whatever,” Lemus said.