November 24, 2014

McDonald's should bring Happy Readers to the U.S.

Posted

I may be moving to the U.K. in the near future.

For the next two years, McDonald’s restaurants in the U.K. are replacing toys in their Happy Meals with children’s books in an attempt to boost reading among children. The reasoning behind the move is that children who own books and enjoy reading are more likely to succeed in life.

The campaign is called “Happy Readers,” and through it, a variety of children’s books will be offered with Happy Meals over the next two years. The best part is, if children prefer to choose their own book instead of taking the one currently being given out, the meal will come with a voucher enabling them to buy a different book for £1 (about $1.60) at a participating bookstore chain.

If my eyes weren’t already green, they’d be changing color. When I was a kid, I would have forsaken all other items on the McDonald’s menu for the Happy Meal if it meant I could get free books. And even though I’m an adult, I’m not ruling out anything if Happy Readers is brought to the U.S. If I could choose the book that comes with the meal, all bets would be off. I would very likely order a Happy Meal, without a qualm and with no shame, every time I visited McDonald’s until the day I died.

I’m very, very disappointed that Mickey D’s doesn’t yet have any plans to bring Happy Readers across the pond.

This idea is beautiful in its simplicity. Want kids to read? Connect books with something they love. And the kid who doesn’t love a Happy Meal is a rare one. So, give kids free books in their Happy Meals to encourage them to read, and you plant a seed that may flower into a happier future.

It’s brilliant. And I can’t understand why it wouldn’t work just as well here as in the U.K.

McDonald’s is being backed by Britain’s National Literacy Trust in implementing the Happy Readers campaign. Apparently, statistics compiled by the trust on how many kids over there own books, and how many actually enjoy sitting down to read them, have set off alarms.

A Time article summarizing the campaign quoted the trust’s director, Jonathan Douglas: “Our research tells us that there is a very clear link between book ownership and children’s future success in life, so it is very concerning that one in three children in the U.K. doesn’t own a book, and half of kids don’t really enjoy reading.”

It makes me very curious what the U.S. statistics would be if the study that netted those results were to be conducted here. I can’t imagine they would be much better, considering the apathy students today so often display toward learning. It’s hard to tell. After all, many young kids love being read to — it’s later that they get into school and somehow encounter the idea that learning isn’t “cool.”

Whether it’s fiction, nonfiction, or poetry, good writing is good writing, and appeals to all ages. Even when kids haven’t learned to read yet, free books can encourage families to spend more time together, reading to their children. The campaign’s only possibility of failure rests on kids’ attachment to free toys. These are the big factor in why kids love Happy Meals — plastic effigies of the popular characters they see on TV or at the movies.

But in my mind, a TV show, a movie, a book... what’s the difference? They’re all stories, and the book has the added benefit of exercising the imagination. And if you get a kid reading, and get them involved in the story, they may eventually want to take the next step and make up their own stories and start writing.

I suppose there are kids who aren’t interested in books, aren’t interested in getting interested in books, and never will be. But my fervent hope is that these kids are also rare. Kids are willing to try almost anything. Heck, I tried Brussels sprouts as a kid at least once before deciding never to eat another one ever again. It’s my hope that, if we get Happy Readers over here, and in the absence of a plastic toy to poke their brother or sister with, they’ll try opening the book — and they’ll like it.

A vice president with McDonald’s global communications said they haven’t ruled out bringing Happy Readers to the U.S. It could still happen, and I encourage them to do it. And if they’re looking for a partner in implementing the program, I hope every book publishing company in the nation, and the federal Department of Education too, stands up, raises their hand, and starts to jump up and down in their haste to lend a financial hand.

... It could happen, right?

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