"The latest big name in books isn't Amazon — it's McDonald's," says Lindsay Goldwert in the New York Daily News. For the next month, the fast-food giant is replacing the plastic toy in every British Happy Meal with a book. The giveaway books — six installments of Michael Morpurgo's Mudpuddle Farms series — are a tie-in with Steven Spielberg's new film adaptation of Morpurgo's War Horse. But by handing out 9 million books, McDonald's is also becoming, at least for a month, Britain's largest purveyor of children's books. Could this help McDonald's boost its reputation among anxious parents? Here's what you should know:
Why is McDonald's getting in the book business?
McDonald's says the heavily promoted book giveaway is about boosting literacy and creativity. And Britain's National Literary Trust agrees: "One in three children in this country don't own a book, which is extremely concerning as there is a clear link between book ownership and children's future success in life," says director Jonathan Douglas. "We are very supportive of McDonald’s decision." Most observers also think switching from throwaway toys to books has something to do with improving McDonald's public standing, in line with recent moves like switching to organic milk, sprucing up restaurants, and listing calorie counts.
And McDonald's is really the UK's largest purveyor of kids books?
Yes, says Harry Wallop in Britain's Daily Telegraph. In 2011, children's book sales averaged 4.6 million per month; for one month, McDonald's is giving away 9 million with its Happy Meals. At least for a time, "McDonald's will be handing out considerably more children's books than are usually sold" in the entire country.
Will Happy Meal books come to the U.S.?
McDonald's hasn't said, but it seems possible. The partnership with publisher HarperCollins is relatively new, and McDonald's does point out that a similar book giveaway in Sweden was very popular.
Are books really an improvement over toys?
It depends on who you ask. Linking unhealthy food and education is "not the most healthful choice," dietitian Stacia Helfand tells the Daily News. McDonald's would "enrich children's lives" more by serving healthier food. Yeah, this downright "cynical" campaign "appears to be designed to make fast food more attractive to children," Charlie Powell at the Children's Food Campaign tells Britain's Daily Mail. Oh please, says Raphael Brion at Eater. You're never going to win over kids by replacing "sweet plastic trinkets" with "boring" old books. And even if kids do bite, says The Daily What, "I'll take fat and well-read over skinny and illiterate any day."