The U.K.'s Biggest Distributor of Children's Books Is About to Be ... McDonald's

Happy meals in Britain are getting a little more literary.

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Is there an activity that combines whooping and weeping and shaking one's head at the weirdness and occasionally the wonderfulness of the world?

If so, that activity would make an apt reaction to the following news: McDonald's restaurants across the U.K. are going to start distributing books, instead of toys, in their Happy Meals. For the next five weeks, as part of the chain's "Happy Readers" promotion, the McDonald's kids' meals will include non-fiction books from DK Books's "Amazing World" Series -- books with kid-friendly titles like "Stars and Planets," "Big Cats," and "Oceans."

It's easy to make fun of the experimental McLiterature initiative -- in the way that it's easy to make fun of McDonald's itself. But the chain is, like it or not, a juggernaut ... one that has, as such, immense power over the impressionable kids among its customers. And this could be one way -- one small way that, via McDonald's mass impact, could prove significant -- to get kids excited about reading. The initiative, Yahoo Shine reports, was inspired by data from Britain's National Literacy Trust -- data revealing that, out of a group of 21,000 only half of them said they liked reading "very much" or "a lot." 

Which is both unfortunate and reversible. As Jonathan Douglas, director of the NLT, told The Telegraph:

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 UK doesn't own a book, and half of kids don't really enjoy reading.

Initiatives like McDonald's Happy Readers campaign play an important role in getting more books into the hands of children, and inspiring families to read together as a fun and interactive pastime.

What initiatives like the "Happy Readers" campaign also mean, however, is a new logic for book distribution -- particularly when it comes to children. We're a little bit desperate to get kids to read, which means that we're a little bit more amendable than we used to be to finding innovative new methods of getting books into kids' hands. And that's a good thing. But it means a strange, telling twist: McDonald's expects to distribute 15 million books over the course of its initiative, between now and 2014. Which means that it will become the biggest distributor of children's books in the entire United Kingdom.

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Megan Garber is a staff writer at The Atlantic. She was formerly an assistant editor at the Nieman Journalism Lab, where she wrote about innovations in the media.

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