Utah students now have even more incentive to read: free soda.

The new "It's An Up Thing To Read" literacy program offers elementary students who read three books between Sept. 1 and Dec. 31 a free Seven-Up from participating Kmart or Albertsons stores. Some 225,000 schoolchildren are expected to participate in the statewide program, introduced Tuesday at Franklin Elementary in the Salt Lake City School District."You can go anywhere when you read a book," Bob Chase, president of the 2.4 million-member National Education Association, told about 70 second-graders after reading them "The Napping House."

"That's why it's so important you learn how to read and read to each other."

Schoolchildren receive a special library card under the literacy program, which Chase says is among the nation's most comprehensive literacy partnerships with local businesses.

Teachers place a sticker on the card for each book read. After receiving a Seven-Up, students drop the library card in a store box. Two students will win a $200 shopping certificate; their teachers and classmates get a $200 school supplies certificate and pizza party, respectively. A drawing for an Apple school computer will conclude the program.

The program, sponsored by the Utah Education Association, Seven-Up and Radio Disney, which has donated advertising and distributed pencils and bumper stickers, extends one piloted in 268 elementaries in 10 Wasatch Front school districts last year. Participating students read nearly 28,900 books.

"Reading is one of the most important things children can learn to do," said UEA president Phyllis Sorensen, who, along with Salt Lake Superintendent Darline Robles and Ogden Superintendent Mike Paskewicz, read to children Tuesday.

The NEA last March conducted national Read Across America Day on the birthday of children's author Dr. Seuss. Several states are looking into statewide literacy campaigns. Sorensen says the Utah program may extend to secondary students next year.

"We're trying to get kids to look beyond reading as a subject," said Lily Eskelsen, member of the NEA executive board and the Democratic candidate for the 2nd Congressional District seat held by Rep. Merrill Cook, R-Utah.

"Reading is entertainment, it's how we get information, how we stay connected with the rest of the world. If when they leave school they can read well, they will be successful in anything."