Having apparently taken one look at the nation’s increasingly obese children and let out a long, sad sigh of impotent culpability, McDonald’s is now aiming to trim the flab from kids’ minds. Realising that it’ll never convince those impish tubs of lard to swap a cheeseburger made from Chinese newspapers and some cow for a nice salad (unless it comes with that dressing that takes its calorie count higher than that of a Big Mac), the fast food giant has given the table of the past a cursory wipe with a napkin, decided ‘eh, it’ll do’ and introduced a new attempt to improve the lives of children, one that isn’t attempting to atone for the company’s own sins or anything: starting this week, it’s giving away copies of Michael Morpurgo’s Mudpuddle Farm series free with every Happy Meal. Presumably Burger King got the rights to the War Horse with flamethrower attachment.
The National Literacy Trust has given the move its full support, saying it will encourage more families to read together, and perhaps go some way toward lessening the number of children in the UK whose homes do not contain a single book – as many as one in three, nearly four million children, according to recent Trust figures. McDonald’s itself claims eight out of ten UK families visit its outlets across the country. It seems safe to assume that a Venn diagram of the two sets of statistics would see a fair amount of overlap. The kids are eating there regardless – might as well chuck a book at them and see if it sticks.
Of course, there have already been grumblings – largely from the Guardian comment boards, so take from that what you will – about the more sinister undertones of a company with a frankly horrendous record on animal and environmental welfare distributing books that paint an altogether more bucolic picture of farm life to its youngest, most impressionable clients. There is also the less than reassuring news that the public face of the campaign is Jeff Brazier, who can absolutely spell ‘library’, just see if he can’t.
But honestly, this is one case where the old author’s rubric of ‘if I can just reach one kid…’ could actually apply to kids who don’t find themselves in libraries or bookshops on anything like a regular basis. If McDonald’s really, truly, sincerely wants to make a lasting difference, it’ll have to do this kind of thing for longer than the four weeks it’s giving away Morpurgo novels. For now, though, it’s a start.