McDonald’s to Include 15 Million Books in UK Happy Meals

We’re willing to bet that “literacy” doesn’t top the list of words you associate with McDonald’s Happy Meals. In the UK, however, the connection between books and burgers no longer seems quite so far-fetched.

After the success of a trial period last year during which McDonald’s gave nine million books by Michael Morpurgo to kids via their Happy Meals, the chain is now committed to a new, long-term campaign that seeks to hand out at least 15 million fiction and non-fiction books to British families by the end of 2014.

The new campaign, backed by the National Literacy Trust, kicked off this week with a promotion that will include a non-fiction, nature-themed book from DKs “Amazing World” series with every kids’ meal over the next five weeks.

In addition to working with multiple publishers on different promotions over the next two years, McDonald’s promises to “lend its family-friendly restaurant environment and its focus on family fun to encouraging parents and children to enjoy books together”.

McDonald’s UK VP Alistair Macrow said: “I’ve been surprised by statistics [from the National Literacy Trust] that show that one in three children don’t own a book, and that half don’t enjoy reading…This is a real opportunity for us to help shift the balance and put the fun back into reading.”

Conal Presho, head of development at the National Literacy Trust, said that the promotion would “make a massive difference” to the number of children owning books in the UK. “When children own their own books, it makes a huge difference to their reading…This is a real opportunity to spark conversations, and is really positive. McDonald’s is a company with huge reach across the UK”. And these aren’t just general statements; The NLT’s research has shown a clear link between book ownership and children’s future success in life.

While much of the feedback is positive (it’s pretty hard to disparage the benefits of putting books in the hands of children no matter who is handing them out), critics feel that a Happy Meal is a poor choice, whether it contains a book or not. Stacia Helfand, registered dietician from Nutritious Life, said, “It’s not a good idea to link fast food and education…If McDonald’s wanted to do more to enrich children’s lives, it would raise the quality of the nutrition in its kids’ meals.”

Personally, the book-lover and former library-worker in me says, “rejoice!” even while the health nut in me cringes a bit at all the fried nuggets and potato strips.

So what do you think, readers? Is this something you’d like to see McDonald’s carry over to the US? Do feel that “hey, if they’re going to eat a Happy Meal anyway, at least they’re getting a book and being encouraged to read at the same time”, or are you more of the mind that anything encouraging parents and children to frequent fast food joints is a bad thing?