Annoyed Librarian
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McBooks Make Happy Meals Happier!

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.

And then there’s the latest McBook development, which you can read about here and from the horse’s mouth here.

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.



  1. Jedi Librarian says:

    Makes perfect sense, really…I’m sure their books will have exactly the same relationship to literature that their restaurant offerings have to food.

  2. Cut Both Ways says:

    Some families owe too much in fines to libraries and give up on repaying them at all, whereas they visit and pay McDonald’s on a more frequent basis to feed the whole family. The number of existing libraries does not equal the number of libraries parents can realistically access.

    • Nonsense. Not only are libraries in general more than willing to work with people on fines (the fines only exist to remind people that they are borrowing items, not being given items, and they have limits), but people are more than welcome, even if they have fines, to go into the library and read the books there. Many even have comfy seating areas for parents do to this in. There’s the big issue of whether or not the library hours mesh with the parents’ work hours — McDonald’s doesn’t have that issue — but that’s something to take up with the local government.

  3. I remember getting several Little Golden Books with my happy meals back in the 80s. They should just do that again.

  4. An ad company, presumably the one doing this promotion, is also contacting the youth departments of libraries around the country asking them to participate in a book donation drive in exchange for McDs coming out and having their characters read these new Happy Meal stories to kids in the library. If this was like their promotions in the late ’80s that featured Little Golden Books or cute dinosaur stories then I wouldn’t have as many qualms, but the blatant advertising feel of this push didn’t feel right so we declined.

    • Talk about a load of bullsh*t. I really hope libraries won’t actually do this… I would be so disappointed.

    • c – I agree with you, but it’s a free program featuring popular characters giving away free books and supporting a literacy initiative. That’ll be like catnip to some librarians.

    • Does catnip typically entice librarians? I’m more easily persuaded by beer.

  5. I expect the burro-riding librarian is in Colombia in South America, not in Columbia, MD.

  6. It’s interesting to observe how large media has targeted and infiltrating the education system. Don’t get me wrong, I fully support free programs but I think it beneficial to “pay attention” to the ulterior motive. Children don’t have the necessary tools to differentiate between “free” and “manipulative.”

  7. Annoyed Librarian, if your point is that promoting reading is bad when a company you don’t like does it, but is good when some cute kids do it, that is unreasonable and unkind. Promoting reading among children is always a good thing. Always. If HItler promoted reading among children, it’s still not a bad thing because HItler did it. For example, vegetarianism isn’t evil because HItler was a vegetarian and HItler was evil. By distributing free books, a large company like McDonalds has the potential to produce lots of reading, which is a good thing. More reading + children = public good. Big companies might do more good if we acknowledge the good they do instead of criticizing all they do, the good with the bad.

    • Wow…a reference to Hitler in your first post on the subject. So much for Godwin’s Law.

      Maybe free books aren’t a bad thing, but free books about the adventures of Chick ‘N’ McNugget or whatever they’ll name their anthropomorphic little Happy Meal foods isn’t literacy. It’s advertising aimed at a vulnerable population. AL is right – McDonald’s could have accomplished ten times more for literacy by promoting libraries and gained themselves some charitable cred and positive advertising to boot.

    • To also d, when you use your godwin’s law reference, you’ re using the same ad hominem attack the annoyed librarian uses in this post. Instead of engaging in my argument, you try to ridicule me. This argument is unintelligent and a little mean. The annoyed librarian argues that since she believes mcdonalds is an evil corporation responsible for making people fat, their plan to include books for children in happy meals is a bad thing, You and the annoyed librarian argue that sometimes reading is bad for children. This kind of viewpoint bigotry is unappealing when we see it used to remove children’s books featuring gay characters from public libraries. It’s also unattractive on librarians.

    • Read the second paragraph I wrote, dude, if you can see through the fury your righteous indignation. And you’ve followed up your Hitler reference by accusing me of censorship. Awesome. Straw everywhere. You forgot to ask me why I hate capitalism since I’m criticizing a business. They criticize business in North Korea too, don’t I know. And there are labor camps there. Why do I hate freedom?

      Let’s try again. Your argument is that McDonald’s is trying to promote reading, so good for them and everyone, and AL is biased against big corporations. My argument is that including advertising in a Happy Meal as a literacy initiative accomplishes little as far as literacy is concerned. I suppose though,based on your argument, that since much advertising has to be read, we should be thanking all advertisers for their contribution to literacy. Hooray for the billboard!

      The sad thing, and I think that this is what AL is getting at, is that they could have accomplished a lot more had they partnered with libraries – that’s more for literacy and more for the corporation, since it would look more like promoting the public good and less like advertising dressed up as literacy. People are cynical and see through this stuff. Had they entered into a partnership with libraries, or even came up with something more creative than this half-a$sed idea, they could have had a greater impact and looked like an even better corporate citizen.

  8. deg farrelly says:

    I am not a supporter of McDonalds, which I avoid as best I can.
    But before we malign the Happy Meal Books program can we wait to see what the books are in actuality?
    A Google search for Happy Meal Books returns images that are of DK books on animals, the ocean, the rainforest, space, etc.
    They do not appear to be of cartoon characters shilling McD’s

    • Fair enough. I based on this comment from AL:

      “Apparently, they’ll all be little advertisements for Happy Meals, populated with Happy Meals characters.”

      She also mentions McDonald’s PR referring to nutrition, which makes the titles sound food-based, at least.

  9. Eh, if these books *are* thinly-disguised advertising, then they will be fine tools for teaching the next generation how to spot and analyze manipulative writing.

    “Very good, Johnny! That is exactly what the writer seems to want you to believe. Now, Melissa, how did the writer avoid actually saying that?”

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