From the red carpet to the golden arches: an unlikely champion in the battle to get children reading has emerged in the shape of McDonald’s, which is set to give away nine million books by Michael Morpurgo, author of the smash hit children’s novel War Horse, with its Happy Meals.
The fast food chain has linked up with publisher HarperCollins to hand out millions of copies of former children’s laureate Morpurgo’s Mudpuddle Farm books, aimed at younger readers, along with its Happy Meals, in one of its biggest ever promotions.
The move is supported by the National Literacy Trust, which said that McDonald’s “size and scale will be a huge leap towards encouraging more families to read together”. Eight out of 10 families visit McDonald’s, according to the fast food chain. Pointing to the National Literacy Trust’s recent research which showed that one in three children in the UK – almost four million – don’t own a book, director Jonathan Douglas said he was “very
supportive of McDonald’s decision to give families access to popular books”.
Titles offered to Happy Meal purchasers between 11 January and 7 February will include Morpurgo’s Mossop’s Last Chance and Martians at Mudpuddle Farm, with each book coming with a finger puppet. The novels, about the animals who live in the farmyard on Mudpuddle farm, will also be on sale at McDonald’s restaurants without the need to buy a Happy Meal, it said.
Booktrust, the government-backed charity which gives away five million books a year to babies and children, also supported the McDonald’s scheme, despite the recent furore in California over the company’s inclusion of free toys with their Happy Meals. Happy Meals were banned in Santa Clara County in 2010; the county supervisor behind the ban said at the time that its intention was to “prevent restaurants from preying on children’s love of toys to peddle high calorie, high fat, high sodium kids’ meals. It breaks the link between unhealthy food and prizes.”
Booktrust director Viv Bird was very positive about the partnership, however. “There is a real cultural challenge around reading for pleasure and we’ve got to be really careful, particularly in the current climate and with the concerns about literacy standards, that parents don’t think reading is only about phonics – that they realise enjoying reading is just as important. This partnership with McDonald’s Happy Meals and HarperCollins sends a really powerful message that reading is for everyone,” she said. “You’ve got Michael Morpurgo, the ex children’s laureate whose writing is fantastic, you’ve got quality books which are going to reach lots of families who wouldn’t necessarily go into libraries or bookshops: what is there to disagree with?”
Jack Sallabank, brand partnership manager at the National Literacy Trust, said, meanwhile, that “the National Literacy Trust’s interest in the McDonald’s campaign is not related to the number of Happy Meals sold. Nine million books will be distributed to children during the campaign. In a society where one in three children don’t own a book, this type of campaign will be hugely effective at reaching those who aren’t introduced to reading at home and done so in an environment in which they feel comfortable.”
Thanks to the Guardian for this one!