McDonald’s latest attempt to market its Happy Meals as something other than pure dietary evil has the fast-food chain taking a page from Amazon: It’s selling books to children. According to British newspaper the Telegraph, McDonald’s is including nine million vouchers for the popular Mudpuddle Farm series in its Happy Meals sold in the UK. The meals also come with a book-related finger puppet.

Like everything McDonald’s does, particularly where marketing fried, fatty foods to children is concerned, critics are divided. Those in favor of it point to the deeply depressing statistic that one in three British children doesn’t own a book; by that measure, anything that promotes literacy (and finger puppetry) can’t be all bad. Those opposed point to the fact that, literacy aside, the books are being used to sell Happy Meals, and that is indeed very bad. There are six books in the Mudpuddle series, which means that children will pester their parents for Happy Meals at least six times between now and February 7, when the promotion ends.

McDonald’s could, of course, appease both sides and have a more lasting effect on the quality of children’s lives by selling them better food. But then one could also argue that if politicians made education a greater priority than, say, military spending, fast-food chains wouldn’t have as much room to do double duty as school libraries.

Although McDonald’s hasn’t announced plans to sell books in the States, Chick-fil-A already beat them to it. Through a partnership with Random House, the Atlanta-based corporation hands out book vouchers with its kids’ meals. Given Chick-fil-A’s track record, the chain might win over skeptics by promoting titles like Heather Has Two Mommies, Eating the Alphabet: Fruits and Vegetables from A to Z, or The Berenstain Bears and the Bully.

Image source: HarperCollins

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