Through Monday, February 15, McDonald’s stores in the U.S. will be swapping toys for books in its Happy Meals. Four children’s books have been specially printed to fit in small Happy Meal boxes, and some stores will have Spanish versions available. By the end of this year, the company expects to have distributed more than 50 million books to children – enough to provide a book to every child in America under the age of 12.
“To put that into more perspective, McDonald’s USA will have distributed more than twice the number of children’s books than are cataloged in the classification system at the Library of Congress, the largest library in the world,” Carol H. Rasco, the president and CEO of Reading Is Fundamental (RIF), wrote on Medium. The Library of Congress had 23.9 million cataloged books in its classification system in 2014.
RIF is the U.S.’s largest children’s literacy non-profit organization, and has worked with McDonald’s since the launch of the Happy Meal Books program in 2013. In addition to distributing books through Happy Meals, McDonald’s has donated 100,000 books to RIF, matching previous years’ donations. RIF distributes these donations to children who do not have easy access to books to combat illiteracy and increase graduation rates – proven benefits of access to books. The 2015 and 2016 programs have also been supported by publisher HarperCollins.
“For children without access to books, the statistics are staggering. Nearly 65% of 4th graders read at or below the basic level. And more than 75% of children who are poor readers by the end of 3rd grade remain poor readers and ultimately fall behind in school,” writes Rasco. “To help fix this we must get books into more young readers’ hands. Numerous studies confirmed the number of books in a home directly predicts a child’s proficiency at reading. In fact, a child who grows up with books in his or her home reaches a higher level of education than those who do not.”
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Three of this year’s titles are Valentine’s Day themed: Clark the Shark Takes Heart by Bruce Hale; Happy Valentine’s Day, Mouse! by Laura Numeroff and Felicia Bond; and Pete the Cat: Valentine’s Day Is Cool by Kimberly and James Dean. The fourth book is Michael Bond’s Paddington.
McDonald’s has also run a version of the program in the UK, supported by the UK’s National Literacy Trust and government-backed charity Booktrust. In 2012, McDonald’s and HarperCollins kicked off the program by distributing an estimated 9 million books by Michael Morpurgo, the author best-known for his children’s novel, War Horse. More recently, the fast food chain distributed 14 million books by Roald Dahl, which drew from Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, Fantastic Mr Fox, George’s Marvellous Medicine, and Matilda. The National Trust says the McDonald’s Happy Readers program has distributed more than 22.8 million books since 2013.
McDonald’s recently introduced a zero net deforestation policy (not sure how the printing of the books fits into that goal), and as of October 2015, all packaging distributed in its 38 European markets is from recycled sources or a forest that is certified as responsibly managed.