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McDonald’s continues fight against mind obesity with free books

Almost exactly a year ago – on the equivalent Tuesday in 2012, in fact – we ran a piece about how McDonald’s was embarking upon a quest to solve the problem of, to coin a phrase, childhood mind obesity, by giving away copies of Michael Morpurgo’s Mudpuddle Farm series free with every Happy Meal for four weeks. Despite the typical reservations about anything to do with McDonald’s and its business practices, we sounded a note of cautious optimism about the scheme, saying: ‘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.’ We then suggested that ‘[i]f 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.’

So I guess we can take the news that McDonald’s is, indeed, doing this kind of thing for longer than four weeks by committing to give away 15 million books with its Happy Meals over the next two years as a definitive sign that BookMachine has the ear of the fast food chain’s high heid yins.

By which I mean BookMachine almost certainly does not have the ear of the brass at McDonald’s, but it’s encouraging nonetheless to see the company extend its commitment to at least trying to include some kind of nourishment with its food. Backed once again by the National Literacy Trust (what, no Jeff Brazier this time round?), the company will sporadically distribute both fiction and non-fiction titles in similar month-long periods to the rotations of Happy Meal toys, at least through until the end of 2014. The latest phase of the initiative began last week, the first of five in which the meals will come with copies of Dorling Kindersley’s Amazing World series.

On top of the book giveaways, McDonald’s has partnered with WH Smith for what it’s calling ‘Happy Readers’ offers, in which vouchers entitle holders to certain books at Smith’s for £1. As before, the usual ethical provisos about anything McDonald’s does still apply, but kids are always going to eat there regardless, and if not books it’ll be cheaply made tie-ins with other similarly questionable conglomerates, so really, the only question you have to ask yourself about this is whether you’d rather they were reading something new or finding inventive ways to coat a Transformer in barbecue sauce.

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Chris Ward

Chris Ward

Chris Ward writes and says things about books and music and films and what have you, even when no one is reading or listening.
He was chief hack and music editor of webzine Brazen from 2006 to 2010, and hosted Left of the Dial on Subcity Radio from 2008 to 2011.
He can be heard semi-regularly on the podcast of Scottish cultural blog Scots Whay Hae ('20th best website in Scotland!' - The List), and in 2011 founded Seen Your Video, a film and music podcast and blog based in Glasgow. He has a Masters degree in Scottish Literature from the University of Glasgow that will never have any practical application. You are on a hiding to nothing if you follow him on Twitter expecting any kind of hot publishing scoop.

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