From November 1–14, McDonald’s will give away 20 million children’s books with their Happy Meals instead of a toy in an effort to promote literacy. Last year, McDonald’s gave away 9 million books in the UK. While the books distributed in the UK, the Mudpuddle Farm series, were written by author Michael Morpurgo, the books being distributed in the US were written by the advertising agency McDonald’s uses, Leo Burnett. In both locations, the promotion has briefly made the company one of the largest distributors and publishers of children’s books.

Leo Burnett created four different books for McDonald’s: “The Goat Who Ate Everything,” “Deana’s Big Dreams,” “Ant, Can’t,” and “Doddi the Dodo Goes to Orlando.” Each book focuses on healthy eating and exercise. Here’s a brief description of each book:

  • “The Goat Who Ate Everything”—the eponymous goat in this story has a large appetite and struggles to eat nutritional foods; however, he finds that when he does eat well, he feels amazing.
  • “Deana’s Big Dreams”—this is a story about how Deana, the smallest dinosaur, grew to be big and tall by eating right.
  • “Ant, Can’t”—the hero of this story is Ant, a tiny bodybuilder who enjoys encouraging others to eat healthy foods and exercise.

    “Doddi the Dodo Goes to Orlando”—this story is about Doddi the Dodo, who travels the world and makes smart eating choices so she has the energy to explore.

While getting children excited about reading seems to be a positive goal, watchdog groups like Corporate Accountability International have said that McDonald’s is “trying to earn undeserved goodwill from the growing number of parents and health advocates who are calling on them to stop marketing to kids.” In other words, the theme of the books—living a healthy lifestyle—seems to be a publicity stunt created to help the company’s reputation and boost sales. However, after a successful pilot program in the UK, McDonald’s has stated that nine out of ten parents surveyed wanted to see more book promotions from the company. If this information is correct and parents really do want more book promotions from McDonald’s, their request will soon be granted: by going online, parents and children can view new interactive digital books each month through the end of 2014. These digital books are being created in partnership with DK publishing.

On the one hand, this book promotion from the most popular fast food chain in the world does seem like a way to get books directly in front of children. On the other hand, it also seems a bit ironic that McDonald’s, so often the target of health advocacy groups and parents, is promoting exercise and good nutrition. The creation of an interactive digital book that is connected to McDonald’s website also seems like just another way for children to develop a relationship with the brand, not mention spend more sedentary time in front of a digital device. However, it wouldn’t be a good thing to completely discount the company’s efforts. After all, literacy rates are declining. Studies show every day that fewer children, and adults for that matter, are reading. If McDonald’s can change that, then good for them—and good for us.

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