Hade’s (2001) “Curious George gets branded: Reading as consuming” (158-165).

Hade’s (2001) “Curious George gets branded: Reading as consuming” (158-165).

Order instructions:
Read Hade’s (2001) “Curious George gets branded: Reading as consuming” (158-165). To consider the commodification of children’s literature.
1.:Visit a site outside of a school or library with children’s literature related artifacts. Places might be the Toy section of Target/Walmart, or a local toy store. Document what you see (photographs, notes, maps). Research online for other similar products or media crossovers of that brand/character/author, including books, toys, etc. How do these products connect to children’s literature? Who is the target audience?
2. Watch a movie, episode(s) of a TV show, or based on a children’s picture book. Compare and contrast it to the original book. Note additions and/or omissions to the characters/plot/theme. For whom is the intended audience? What has been the critical reception of cinematic retelling? Your personal opinion? Who wrote the screenplay? What has this book and film’s impact on popular culture been?

See discussions, stats, and author profiles for this publication at:
https://www.researchgate.net/publication/249901149
Curious George Gets Branded: Reading as
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DOI: 10.1207/s15430421tip4003_3
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158
THEORY INTO PRACTICE / Summer 2001
Already Reading: Children, Texts, and Contexts
Daniel D. Hade is associate professor of children’s
literature at The Pennsylvania State University.
S CHOLASTIC, ALWAYS A TRUSTED NAME in schools,
has in the last twenty years become a strong
brand known to millions of parents and children,
connected to literacy and learning. The goal of the
present generation is to expand Scholastic’s brand
worldwide, to build the strongest global children’s
book publishing and distribution business, to expand
further our outstanding position in education, and to
meet the needs of children everywhere for improved
learning at school and at home through technology,
including the Internet, while increasing profitability
and building shareholder value. Richard Robinson,
Chairman, President, and Chief Executive Officer,
Scholastic (Scholastic Inc., 2000)
When I was a young boy, I loved Curious
George (Rey, 1941). He was so spontaneous and
sincere, yet also so naughty. Back then I had to
satiate my Curious George desires by checking the
books out of the library and reading the stories
over and over until I had to return the books.
If I were a young boy today, I’d have an
unimaginable range of choices through which to
experience Curious George. In the morning I could
wake up to the sound of my Curious George alarm
clock ringing. Disbelieving it was already time to
arise, I could turn on my Curious George lamp and
check the time on my Curious George wall clock.
Then I could throw off the Curious George comforter
and kick down the Curious George bed sheet.
Shuffling around the room, I might accidentally
step on the toys I forgot to put away the night
before: my Curious George drum, Curious George
spinning top, Curious George jack-in-the-box (or
more accurately George-in-the-box), and a host of
Curious George puzzles. I’d slip on a Curious
George T-shirt and my blue jeans.
Making my way to the kitchen, I’d find that
my mother had placed a plate of scrambled eggs
on my Curious George place mat. I’d reach for the
Curious George salt and pepper shakers to season
the eggs and then gobble them up. Mom would
hand me my lunch, packed in my Curious George
lunch box, which I would then stuff in my Curious
George backpack. At school I’d find that my teacher
had put up a Curious George alphabet wall hanging
and had set up the flannel board with Curious
George felt characters. Next to the computer, I
could see a Curious George mouse pad and a stack
of Curious George CD-ROMs.
Coming home after school, I’d sneak a cookie
from the Curious George cookie jar, look at the
Curious George calendar, and count the days until
Halloween. Then I’d grab my Curious George plush
doll, put the Curious George Flies a Kite video in
the VCR, snuggle into a comfy chair, and dream
about wearing my Curious George costume on
Halloween and collecting candy in my Curious
George pail. My parents could have purchased all
these things at Amazon.com, with the blessings of
Daniel D. Hade
Curious George Gets Branded:
Reading as Consuming
THEORY INTO PRACTICE, Volume 40, Number 3, Summer 2001
Copyright © 2001 College of Education, The Ohio State University
159
Reading as Consuming
Hade
many educators because the merchandise promotes
a book that in turn fosters the habit of reading.
What is so different today from the 1950s,
when I was a young boy? In the ’50s you could
buy an even wider range of products with Mickey
Mouse stitched, stamped, or printed on them. Walt
Disney was active in making films, TV programs,
theme parks, and negotiating a variety of licensing
agreements with companies who wished to use one
of Disney’s characters on their products. Disney
understood that he wasn’t selling television programming
or feature films. What he was selling
was himself and the characters he and his associates
had created. It didn’t matter if Mickey Mouse was in
a feature film, a short cartoon, on TV with the Mickey
Mouse Club, or stamped on a watch. The point
was getting Mickey in front of as many people as
possible.
Today’s book publishers look much more like
the Walt Disney Corporation than they look like
the publishing houses that existed in the ’50s and
’60s. These publishers understand that they are not
in the book business; rather they sell ideas they
call “brands,” and they market their brands through
“synergized” goods designed to infiltrate as many
aspects of a child’s life as possible. In this article I
look at who is publishing today’s children’s books,
how they create brands, and what their attempts at
synergy are doing to children’s books and children’s
reading.
The Big Players
In the late 1960s the children’s book publishing
industry had hundreds of distinct, independent
companies publishing children’s books with
no one company or small group of companies dominating
the market. Thirty years later the field had
changed dramatically. In 1967, 87 publishers had
books reviewed by the selective Horn Book Magazine;
by 1997 that number had dropped to 30. A
staggering 60 percent of the books reviewed in
Horn Book in 1997 came from only five publishers
(Hade, 2000). What these numbers reflect are
the results of three decades of company merging
and acquiring in the publishing industry.
Today among the dominant children’s book
publishers, none is strictly a publishing house. The
largest children’s book publishers are all owned
by some of the largest corporations in the world.
What follows are brief, thumbnail sketches of the
major players.
Viacom
Viacom is the parent company of Simon and
Schuster, which is the publishing umbrella for several
imprints, including: Atheneum, McElderry, Little
Simon, Aladdin, and Simon and Schuster. Viacom
also owns CBS, MTV, Nickelodeon, Blockbuster
Video, and Paramount Pictures. Simon and Schuster
publish much of Brian Pinkney’s work. Atheneum
has published Phyllis Reynolds Naylor’s Shiloh as
well as books by Ursula Le Guin and Susan Cooper.
Simon and Schuster produce over 200 new children’s
books a year and have a backlist running
into the thousands (Children’s Book Council, 2000;
Hade, 2000). Viacom’s sales for 1999 totaled nearly
13 billion dollars (Viacom, 2000).
Pearson
Pearson is a British-based company that owns
what it calls “The Penguin Group,” a giant publishing
house under which the imprints Viking,
Dial, Dutton, Putnam, Philomel, and DK are located.
Pearson is also a major player in the textbook
industry, holding such imprints as Prentice Hall,
Allyn and Bacon, and Addison Wesley. Pearson
also holds major interests in television production,
television networks, television channels, and business
services and information. Well-known children’s
books published by Pearson-owned publishers are
Eric Hill’s Spot books and Beatrix Potter’s picture
books. Penguin Putnam produces over 300 new
children’s books a year and has a backlist of thousands
of titles (Children’s Book Council, 2000;
Hade, 2000). In 1999 sales for Pearson totaled 5
billion dollars (Pearson Corporation, 2000).
News Corporation
The News Corporation is a world-wide media
Goliath. Best known perhaps for its CEO, Rupert
Murdoch, the News Corporation owns
HarperCollins publishing. In 1999 the News Corporation
purchased William Morrow publishing and
folded it into its HarperCollins operation, retaining
Greenwillow and HarperCollins as its imprints.
This company also owns Twentieth Century Fox,
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Already Reading: Children, Texts, and Contexts
Fox Broadcasting, TV Guide, major newspapers all
over the world such as The Times (London) and
the New York Post, and the Los Angeles Dodgers.
The News Corporation boasts on its web page
that half a billion people each day read or view a
News Corporation product. Maurice Sendak and
Jean Craighead George publish with HarperCollins.
Beverly Cleary is a HarperCollins author now
that William Morrow, the sole publisher of Cleary’s
work, has been absorbed by HarperCollins. HarperCollins
publishes around 200 new children’s book
titles a year and has a backlist in the thousands
(Children’s Book Council, 2000; Hade, 2000). Sales
for the News Corporation in 1999 totaled approximately
22 billion dollars (News Corporation, 2000).
Bertelsmann
Bertelsmann is a German-based company. Its
publishing holdings are huge and include Random
House, Delecorte, Dell, Bantam, Doubleday, Knopf,
and Crown. Bertelsmann is also heavily into European
television with productions of British comedies, newspapers
and magazines such as Parents Magazine
and YM, record companies such as Arista Records
and Windam Hill Records, the internet search engine
Lycos, and a controlling interest in
BarnesandNoble.com. Christopher Paul Curtis and
Robert Cormier publish with Delecorte, Philip Pullman
with Knopf. Its Random House group of publishers
produces approximately 100 new children’s
books a year and carries a substantial backlist (Children’s
Book Council, 2000; Hade, 2000). Bertelsmann’s
sales for 1999 totaled around 11.5 billion
dollars (Bertelsmann, 2000).
Scholastic
In some respects, Scholastic is the odd one
among this group. Scholastic is family-owned, unlike
Viacom, Pearson, the News Corporation, and
Bertelsmann, and has focused its work in the area of
literacy and learning. Scholastic believes it is now
the largest children’s book publisher in the world,
having under its umbrella the imprints Blue Sky,
Grolier, Franklin Watts, Children’s Press, Orchard
Books, and, of course, Scholastic (Milliot, 2000, July
24). Scholastic also operates a thriving book club
and book fair business, distributing books in virtually
every school in the country. The company publishes
a variety of magazines on current events and
on literature for school use in grades K-12. Scholastic’s
education division publishes curriculum
materials, textbooks, and professional books.
Recently, Scholastic has added entertainment
to its repertoire, producing television programs
based on its Dear America (1996-2001) series, The
Magic School Bus (Cole, 1988), The Babysitters
Club (Martin, 1986-2001), and Goosebumps (Stine,
1992-2001) “properties.” Scholastic also produced
the movie version of An Indian in the Cupboard
(Banks, 1981). Scholastic has many of the all-time,
best-selling children’s books, led by Rowlings’
Harry Potter books. With the recent acquisition of
Grolier, Scholastic has the potential to publish well
over 300 new books a year, along with holding a
backlist running in the thousands of titles (Children’s
Book Council, 2000; Hade, 2000). Sales in
1999 for Scholastic were roughly 1 billion dollars
(Scholastic, 2000).
The business of children’s book publishing, with
the exception of Scholastic, is but a small part of the
total business of these Goliath-sized, multi-national
media corporations.
“Merch”
The mega-corporations that dominate children’s
book publishing demand ever-increasing
profits and profit margins. There are basically three
ways for them to make more money: they could
cut costs by employing fewer workers, or they
could sell more of what they already make by taking
their books into new markets. However, the
large corporations have nearly done all they can in
these two areas. As other industries have done, the
publishers now subcontract the work of printing
the books. For that work, publishers have turned
primarily to Asia, where labor is much less expensive
for the actual printing of the books. Through
mergers they have cut staff, editors, and marketing
personnel as operations are consolidated.
The publishers have saturated the bookstores—the
few remaining independent stores as
well as the big box superstores. They’re also selling
their books in less conventional places such as grocery
stores, department stores, Wal-Mart, Sam’s Club,
and Hallmark (Mehren, 1998, December 23; Roback,
2000, July 17). Virtually every child in the United
States has been offered several Scholastic Book
161
Reading as Consuming
Hade
Club order sheets. The market for books is beginning
to level off.
So what’s left? Well, merch (short for “merchandise”),
for one. The publishers sell licenses to
toy companies to make products based upon a particular
book character carried by that publisher.
The book publisher is paid up front, generating
profit with very low overhead, while the toy company
hopes that the toy will sell well enough for it
to make a profit.
After 10 minutes of searching on the Internet
I found merch, dolls, backpacks, zipper pulls, and
key chains for more than 40 book characters. Some
examples are: Frederick (Lionni), Sylvester (Steig),
Maisy (Cousins), Lily (from Lily’s Plastic Purple
Purse by Henkes), George and Martha (Marshall),
Stuart Little (White & Williams), Arthur (Brown),
Madeline (Bemelmans), Stellaluna (Cannon), and
Eloise (Thompson & Knight). And this just includes
the plush toys and backpacks. The list grows much
larger when the rest of the toys, clothing, games,
videos, and CD-ROMs are added.
How important is merch? The Los Angeles
Times reported that some bookshops, especially
independent children’s bookshops, were dedicating
as much as 30 percent of their shop space for
merch. Some shop owners claimed that it would
be very difficult for them to stay in business without
the merch to sell alongside the books (Mehren,
1998, December 23).
What the book publishers have realized is
that they aren’t really selling books any more. What
they are selling are the ideas and the images in
those books. The book, to their sensibilities, is only
a container for the ideas and the images, one of
many possible containers. The question then becomes,
“Into how many different containers can
you put an idea?” From the point-of-view of the
mega-corporations the goal shifts from trying to
sell as many copies of, say, Madeline, to as many
people as possible, to how many different containers
of Madeline can they sell to one person (Klein,
1999). This is what Disney has been doing for decades,
putting Mickey Mouse on watches, games,
toys, clothing, and books, as well as television
shows and films.
The five companies listed above are “broadband”
service providers. They are involved in all
aspects of entertainment. They provide public access
to all forms of communication, the pipelines
through which ideas flow. They supply a full range
of educational materials—from textbooks, supplementary
materials, tests, and training. In short, these
“storysellers” are packaging and selling culture.
They are, in effect, “meaning brokers,” selling ideas
and access to ideas (Klein, 1999).
Branding
Now that the big corporations are out of the
printing business, they can focus their attentions
onto something that is much more lucrative. They
work on creating stand-alone meaning for their
properties, meaning that transcends a particular type
of product. In other words, they work on creating
brands (Klein, 1999).
Modern corporations strive to create brands
because it is through brands that the true value of
the corporation is made. Companies such as Nike
and AOL actually don’t own much physical stuff.
Nike licenses the making of all of its sneaker and
active wear merchandise to subcontractors; they
own no factories. What Nike really sells is its image,
marked with its familiar swoosh and the slogan
“Just Do It.” Nike’s value is based, then, not
on its physical assets, but rather on the cultural
value of its name and how prolifically it can spread
its swoosh (Klein, 1999). If a company is fortunate,
its name may become the generic name for
all products similar to its own: Kleenex, Xerox,
and Cheerios, for example.
A brand carries meaning. A Curious George
doll represents those virtues we would ascribe to
George from reading his stories. Someone who owns
a Curious George doll owns not so much soft, plush
cloth and stuffing, but the opportunity to continue
experiencing the feelings, ideas, and virtues that go
along with reading the Curious George books. The
doll, like the book, is merely a container, a means of
accessing “Curious Georgeness.” Financially, it
doesn’t matter to the corporation if the experience is
with a toy, a book, or a video. If a child is taken by a
Stellaluna doll and then discovers there is a book
about her, that’s all right.
Taken together the stories and the merch begin
to take on a mythology all their own. In a
crass sort of way, brands are spiritual. In a culture
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THEORY INTO PRACTICE / Summer 2001
Already Reading: Children, Texts, and Contexts
such as ours that is starved of meaning, people
often find meaning in life through the things they
own. As a means of transportation, a BMW isn’t
necessarily a better car than a Geo. Both vehicles
will get you where you need to go. However, a
BMW in your driveway represents a different set
of images and meanings and cultural value that a
Geo could never wish to approach. Brands represent
ways of living. The brand doesn’t represent
the product, the product represents the brand. Thus,
a book becomes one more kind of product that
carries the brand’s meanings.
It’s more than a little jarring to hear of children’s
books and characters being labeled brands,
as if stories are nothing more than breakfast cereal.
But in today’s hyper-capitalistic world, where
large corporations are selling meanings and images
as opposed to actual physical items, children’s
books seem a natural source for brands. On its
web pages, Penguin Putnam speaks glowingly of
the wide recognition some of its book characters/
brands hold—Madeline, Spot, and Peter Rabbit to
name just a few. Viacom, the parent company of
Simon and Schuster, speaks little in its annual report
about literary prizes won by its books, but
details the financial success of its Blue’s Clues
and Rugrats brands instead.
Synergy
You’ve got to understand your property and push
out the ones that make the most sense in formats
that are most desirable. Susan Katz, President and
Publisher, HarperCollins Children’s Division (Phillips
Business Information, 1998, December 23)
When ideas, or in our case more specifically
stories and characters, are carried in different products
and brought to the public through different media,
the effect is that each product is a cross-promotion
of all the other products. When Disney brought out
the movie Mulan, it also showed on the Disney Channel
“The Making of Mulan.” ABC, a Disney-owned
company, aired an ice ballet version featuring
Michelle Kwan in the title role. The Disney-owned
publishers Disney Press and Hyperion each brought
out versions of the Mulan story in book form. When
a company cross-promotes its product, it is known in
the business world as synergy.
Scholastic gets right to the point in the following
quote from its 1998-1999 Annual Report:
These television programs enhance The Company’s
book publishing franchises and have helped build
these properties as important media brands worldwide.
(1998/1999 Annual Report, Scholastic Corporation;
Raugust, 2000)
Scholastic went into the business of making television
shows and films for the express purpose of
promoting its books. Scholastic Entertainment accounts
for a relatively small percentage of sales
and an even smaller percentage of the profits generated
in 1998-99. However, Scholastic’s book
sales have improved dramatically, accounting for
the majority of sales and profits. The annual report
boasts that the strategy of promoting books through
television and film productions is working brilliantly
in increasing book sales and profits (Scholastic,
2000; Raugust, 2000).
Sometimes companies form alliances. Scholastic
has an alliance with Warner whereby each
has first right of refusal on licensing the other’s
material. Warner gives Scholastic the first opportunity
to publish books based on Warner shows,
and Warner has the first option to produce film
and television shows based on Scholastic’s books.
Such relationships assure each company of a steady
flow of content (Raugust, 1998, March 16).
A recent trend in children’s book publishing
is licensing snack products and toys in order to
make children’s books. From Simon and Schuster
you can purchase The Sun Maid Raisins Play Book
(Weir, 1999), the Cheerios Counting Book (Bolster,
1998), and the Oreo Cookie Counting Book
(Albee, 2000). Scholastic has made arrangements
to bring out The Hershey’s Milk Chocolate Bar
Fractions Book (Pollota, 1999) and the Reese’s
Pieces: Count by Fives Book (Pollota, 2000). HarperCollins,
not to be left out, has The Pepperidge
Farm Gold Fish Fun Book (McGrath, 1999).
The covers of these books bear striking resemblances
to the packaging of these food products. In
some of the books there is even a coupon for money
off the purchase of the food. The book publishers
benefit by being associated with popular brands of
candy, crackers, and cereal. The food companies in
turn benefit by bringing their product into a different
market, the book market, which creates greater awareness
of their products (Raugust, 2000, May 1).
The benefits of a successful synergy can be
staggering. Marc Brown’s character, Arthur, was
163
Reading as Consuming
Hade
brought to television a few years ago. Marketing
surveys showed that the children who watched the
Arthur programs wanted to read about Arthur, not
just look at the numerous picture books that already
existed. Surveys also showed that the audience
included not just primary-aged children, but
substantial numbers of preschoolers. So Brown
began writing short chapter books and allowed
some of his picture books to be released in board
book form. Since the advent of the Arthur TV program,
the Arthur books in all their various forms
have sold over 20 million copies (Raugust, 1999,
May 17).
Educational networking
One of the goals of the modern corporation
is to become as much of an all-service provider as
possible. If a corporation’s business is entertainment,
then the corporation attempts to be active in
as many aspects of the entertainment business as
possible. If a corporation’s business is education,
it attempts to be active in as many education markets
as possible. To accomplish this goal, book
publishers are now providing teacher’s editions and
discussion guides for certain children’s books free
of charge. Publishers can afford to give away these
materials because they promote the purchase of
multiple copies of the novel by schools for reading
groups.
A prime example of networking is observed
in how Scholastic has positioned itself in the field
of literacy and learning. Scholastic makes children’s
books available through their monthly book club
ordering sheets and school book fair business. In
effect, Scholastic will bring the store right into
your home or school. Scholastic also sells a variety
of reading programs, some of which they have
indexed to your particular state’s standards. If you
need lesson plans, they have those at their web
site, and you can download them without cost. They
also offer a wide array of classroom magazines on
current events and literature. Scholastic is also extending
their brand into school supplies, stationery,
and even school uniforms (Raugust, 1999, June 28).
Their goal is to offer such an array of services and
products that teachers, parents, and children have
a substantial portion of their educational needs met
by the Scholastic Corporation.
How are we to think of this hyper-marketed,
synergized stuff? Is the Arthur television series
entertainment or an infomercial? Are The Magic
School Bus books really just bound advertisements
for the television program? Could it be that what
seems to be the reading of literature is really just
one of many cross-promotions? The lines between
advertising and entertainment, and advertising and
education are very blurry lines. It seems we are at
a point where we have advertising that thinks it is
entertainment or education, and entertainment and
education that are really advertising in disguise.
Perhaps these cross-promotional books are but
a small part of the entire children’s book world. And
perhaps not. In 1998, 13 of the 16 top-selling front
list hard covers were licensed properties (Raugust,
1999, May 17). Licensed books sell very, very well.
The Bottom Line
Many teachers throughout the United States
can testify to the increasing presence of corporations
in public schools. Why? Time spent at school
is a huge chunk of a child’s total time, time that
could be used for advertising, getting the company’s
logo displayed where all in the school can see
it. Soft drink companies have been quite aggressive
in this. But the publishers aren’t far behind.
Can’t sell books while a child is eating? Combine
eating with reading in licensed books. Better
yet, get the teacher to teach math through branded
candy and branded books. Make t-shirts of your
book characters, so a child can become a walking
billboard for your books. Walking to and from
school with an Arthur backpack is an opportunity for
corporations to make their brands better known. Quiet
time cuddling with parents holding a stuffed Goodnight
Moon bunny becomes an opportunity to market
a branded storybook character during the most intimate
moments between a parent and child.
It is only fair to note that there are many children’s
book publishers who believe deeply in children’s
literature and the potential of great writing
and illustrating to show children the diverse possibilities
of human living. And the big corporations do
continue to publish excellent literature. It is, however,
becoming increasingly difficult to maintain this
belief in literature in a corporate culture that is focused
on sales, market share, brands, and profits.
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THEORY INTO PRACTICE / Summer 2001
Already Reading: Children, Texts, and Contexts
It also becomes more difficult to find the truly
great new literature among the piles of licensed
books. Corporations view a book as merely one of
many possible containers for their branded intellectual
property. It may be that the smaller, independent
publishers will become the primary outlet
for the best writing while the large corporations
produce the books that will sell the most copies.
When my youngest daughter was seven, she
enjoyed playing with Barbie dolls. One day she
brought home from school a Barbie chapter book
she had purchased through the book club. I don’t
remember the title or much of the plot, but it had
something to do with Barbie saving the prom. What
I do remember is that the most detailed parts of
the book were when Barbie was picking out her
clothes and accessories and when she went shopping
at the mall. Then the book described in great
detail what Barbie was wearing and what she was
purchasing, whether the items had much to do with
the plot or not. This kind of commercialized text
is increasing.
Clearly, children today are viewed by the
large corporations who make children’s books not
as readers of books, but as consumers of ideas.
The time a child spends reading, from their point
of view, is little different from time spent watching
television. Each is an opportunity to sell their
branded, synergized wares to the child, an opportunity
to expand their brand’s presence beyond story
time into nearly every part of a child’s life.
Children come to school already read by these
large, multimedia, multinational corporations as
consumers. In our highly commercialized culture,
children reading becomes one more instance of
children consuming.
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Bolster, R. (1998). The Cheerios counting book. New
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Brown, M. (1976). Arthur’s nose. Boston, MA: Little,
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