When it comes to children and books, the more the merrier, right? At least with books. Too many children and things get noisy and broken. Nevertheless, it’s a good combination.
But maybe not always.
First, the nice news. Here’s a very positive story about children and books, from the tiny city of Tomah, WI. Two eighth graders read about the burro-riding librarian in Columbia and wanted to do something similar to promote literacy in Tomah.
Unfortunately, they didn’t have access to a burro, so they decided to build some of those little free libraries instead. They promoted the project, raised money, got a grant, and put up seven of them in parks around town.
Apparently they’re pretty sturdy, too, built “with marine-quality wood, outdoor paint and tempered glass doors.” I’ve lived in apartments that probably weren’t built that well.
Children promoting literacy to the community. Definitely a good thing.
McDonald’s is planning to publish “original” books and put them in Happy Meals. According to the VP of marketing, “This is the latest step in our ongoing efforts to enrich the lives of families, and part of a broader book strategy that will combine the fun of the Happy Meal, new partners and technology to inspire more family reading time.”
I wasn’t aware McDonald’s enriched the lives of families. I can’t remember the last time I was at a McDonald’s, but are Happy Meals really fun? I looked for images of Happy Meals online, and if you eliminate the ones that McDonald’s itself put out there, they look kind of disgusting.
And the photo of the morbidly obese child eating one was just depressing.
If the meals are junk, what will the books be like? Apparently, they’ll all be little advertisements for Happy Meals, populated with Happy Meals characters.
More weird hoopla from McDonald’s marketers: “Each limited-edition book brings nutrition, imagination and play to life in a fun way.” The edition is “limited” to 20 million copies per book, so you better snatch them up fast before they end up being donated to your local library or dumped in a landfill somewhere.
Just so the advertising isn’t limited to kids who are already nutritiously challenged, the non-profit group Reading is Fundamental is helping get the McDonald’s message out. They’ll be distributing “100,000 Happy Meal Books to children who do not have easy access to books.”
I’m not sure which is sadder, children without access to nutritious meals or children without access to books. You know what, I don’t have to decide. Both are bad.
The Reading is Fundamental CEO says, “Books are essential for inspiring children to explore, dream, and achieve, yet far too many children do not have this basic resource.” That’s true, and reading really is fundamental.
But how many children really have no access to books, but do have access to McDonald’s? Let’s do the math.
According to various sources, including this one, there are about 13,000 McDonald’s restaurants in the U.S.
According to the ALA, there are over 16,000 public library locations in the U.S. Throw in another 98,000 school libraries, and that’s a lot of access to books for children.
But instead of promoting those libraries, it’s apparently better for literacy to give away books that McDonald’s published itself promoting its Happy Meals as nutritious.
Who falls for this? Honestly, if kids have access to McDonald’s, they have access to books. They just have parents who would rather treat them to a Happy Meal than to some literacy.
Some might think this is good for the kids, since children who maybe otherwise wouldn’t get books are at least getting something. I’d agree if these were real books, not McBooks designed to promote McDonald’s.
I’ll change my mind if the McBooks come out with the following message: Skip McDonald’s and head to the library instead. Your children will thank you someday.