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McDonald's to Offer Educational Books in Lieu of Happy Meal Toys for National Family Literacy Day

Last week, McDonald’s USA announced the launch of a new Happy Meal Books promotion, coinciding with National Family Literacy Day on Nov. 1. From Nov. 1–14, Happy Meals will be accompanied by one of a series of four original books designed to encourage children to eat right and be more active.

As part of the launch of Happy Meal Books, McDonald’s is collaborating with Reading Is Fundamental (RIF), the largest children’s literacy nonprofit in the U.S., to help more children and their families discover the joy of reading. RIF will distribute 100,000 Happy Meal Books to children who do not have easy access to books.

“Books are essential for inspiring children to explore, dream and achieve, yet far too many children do not have this basic resource,” said Reading Is Fundamental CEO Carol Hampton Rasco. “Together, McDonald’s and RIF can truly help enrich kids’ lives through access to books and by putting the fun back into reading.”

Also beginning Nov. 1, McDonald’s will give families anytime access to reading with a new interactive digital book each month through the end of 2014. The free interactive e-books will be available on McPlay, McDonald’s Happy Meal App, and will allow kids to read, discover and explore exciting new worlds. McDonald’s has partnered with award-winning publisher DK Publishing to offer educational and entertaining content for customers — the first e-book introduces DK’s Amazing World Series, with “The World’s Greatest Cities.”

Kids will also be able to engage with an interactive digital version of McDonald’s Happy Meal print book, The Goat Who Ate Everything, via the McPlay app.

The Happy Meal Books are McDonald’s latest action supporting a recent commitment to champion children’s happiness and well-being by inspiring kids in a fun way to learn about nutrition, engage in active and imaginative play and develop a sense of community.

The books follow a number of improvements the fast food chain has made to the Happy Meal in recent years including:

  • Its 2011 “Commitments to Offer Improved Nutrition Choices,” to ensure 100% of McDonald’s national kids’ communications include a nutrition or active lifestyle message.
  • Since 2013, the automatic inclusion of apple slices, a smaller kid-sized fry and the choice of a low-fat dairy option such as 1% milk or fat-free chocolate milk.

The four limited-edition books include:

  • The Goat Who Ate Everything — The story of a goat who has a big appetite and struggles to eat right. But when he does, he feels great and becomes the playful ‘kid’ everyone loves.
  • Deana’s Big Dreams — Shares how Deana, the world’s smallest dinosaur, grew tall by eating right.
  • Ant Can’t — Features Ant, a bite-sized bodybuilder who’s big on encouraging physical fitness through exercise and eating right.
  • Doddi the Dodo Goes to Orlando — Happy-go-lucky dodo bird Doddi, who eats right and stays active as she travels the world.

McDonald’s launched a similar program in the UK in January, vowing to give out 15 million Happy Meal Books books throughout the country by the end of 2014, and the company is already planning its next Happy Meal Books program, scheduled to begin in 2015. But is this campaign, as critics have said, merely in the interest of continuing to market fast food to children?

Skeptics say McDonald's still has a long way to go, including advocacy group Corporate Accountability International (CAI), which has long criticized McDonald’s for aiming its advertising at children at all. In reaction to the announcement about Happy Meal Books, CAI said the fast food chain 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."

"Even with the books in Happy Meals, this is still fundamentally about marketing to kids," CAI organizer Sriram Madhusoodanan told NPR. "And it's undermining the authority of parents and health professionals."

Last month, a new film from Food Mythbusters called The Myth of Choice: Is Junk Food Really What We Crave? also calls out McDonald’s for marketing junk food to kids, with a corresponding petition by the group to shut down HappyMeal.com for the same reason.

Regardless, McDonald’s appears to be on a mission to improve its customers’ health by raising awareness of and offering more nutritious menu options at the chain. Last month at the Clinton Global Initiative, McDonald's announced a partnership with the Alliance for a Healthier Generation (AHG), with the goal of increasing customers' access to fruit and vegetables and encouraging families and children to make informed nutritional choices. With AHG’s help, McDonald's developed a plan to offer salad, fruit or vegetable as a substitute for fries in value meals; and promote water, milk or juice as the beverage option in Happy Meals in 20 of the restaurant chain's largest markets around the world.

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