McDonald’s and Michael Morpurgo

It has been announced that author Michael Morpurgo has authorised the distribution of nine million copies of Mossop’s Last Chance and Martians at Mudpuddle Farm with McDonald’s Happy Meals. Finger puppets will be included as well, which is kind of fun.

Of course, there will always be detractors for everything, especially if McDonald’s is involved. The National Literacy Trust is supportive of this campaign due to the poor literacy rates in the UK, and the lack of access to books.

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”.

And then there’s the Children’s Food Campaign, who are not happy with children being rewarded for bad eating habits with free books:

“The idea appears to be designed to make fast food more attractive to children, which is not the direction we should be going in … You have to question whether it is McDonald’s role in society to improve childhood literacy.”

Both points are valid, and I can understand why it might seem like a bad idea to give children such a reward for their bad eating habits. But isn’t it more important to get books into the hands of children? Most kids love junk food, whether they get an extra reward for it or not. Eating sugary, high-fat foods is a reward in itself for kids, and they will eat it anyway, with or without permission from their parents. While I admire Jamie Oliver’s campaign to get kids to eat better in schools, I think its unfair to say that equating junk food with books is an inherently bad idea. This kind of exposure to reading is absolutely fantastic. It is clear that, in the UK at least, schools and libraries are not coping with the burden of getting kids to read for pleasure. If the parents can say “you can have a Happy Meal, but then you must read the book to me”, isn’t that a wonderful opportunity to inspire a new love?

Its hard for me to be against any program that is trying to get kids to read. Some kids will toss the books aside while chomping on their burgers; I have no doubt of that. But it is unfair to say that millions of kids shouldn’t get books just because they want a Happy Meal. I have my issues with McDonalds and the fast food industry, but that doesn’t mean that they can’t try to do some good. They should be given the opportunity to do so.

It would be fantastic to be able to do something similar with South African food distributors. I’m sure some publishers would be happy to work with someone (maybe me!) in repackaging and translating some classic stories for distribution with Chicky Meals or Brat Packs. For some kids, a book is still a precious and beautiful thing, and nothing makes me happier than seeing boxes of books go out to charities. Its a luxury, and it shouldn’t be. If McDonalds, HarperCollins and Michael Morpurgo want to give more kids the joy of reading, then is it really such a bad thing that they buy two Happy Meals to get two new books?

After all, not every kid that eats junk grows up to eat it all the time, right?

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