Free Children’s Books With Those Fries: Are Digital Books the Literary Equivalent of Junk Food?

Expert publishing blog opinions are solely those of the blogger and not necessarily endorsed by DBW.

Free ebooks available through McDonald's McPlay App.

Free ebooks available through McDonald’s McPlay App.

Children are used to getting a free plastic toy in their McDonald’s Happy Meal. This month, however, kids will get free books along with their burgers and fries. (See related article.) McDonald’s has partnered with RIF (Reading is Fundamental) to put stories in the hands of families during National Family Literacy Month.

Mealtime storytelling is key to early literacy

It’s widely believed that reading is good for kids… but fast food, not so much. So why does a national literacy organization like RIF choose to partner with a fast food chain? “We are always looking for places where children and caregivers are together,” said Carol Rasco, President and CEO of RIF. “McDonalds is a place where many families with young children go. We reach some here, we reach some elsewhere.” Rasco notes that RIF also gives away books at museums, zoos, and even on soccer fields.

Reading Is Fundamental has been putting books in children's hands since 1966.

Reading Is Fundamental has been putting books in children’s hands since 1966.

Rasco and her team have found that literacy increases when families engage their children in storytelling at mealtime—that’s another reason why McDonald’s is a good fit for a free book give-away promotion. “Talking at mealtime can be so very important to developing early literacy skills,” she said. With these “small, short books, mealtime discussions can happen as naturally as possible.”

The digital-versus-paper divide

This program gives away free books in both formats: paper and digital. There’s a debate among professionals in early education about whether digital books are not-so-good for children. An article in Scientific American, for example, reported research that “indicates that modern screens and e-readers … prevent people from navigating long texts in an intuitive and satisfying way.” Ouch.

Are digital books the literary equivalent of junk food? Rasco and her team at RIF don’t think so.

“Why do we have to choose between a book and an ebook?” she asks, noting that exposing children to stories, text, and new ideas through reading—especially when sharing the experience with an attentive caregiver—is beneficial no matter what format the book comes in. Furthermore, she goes on to add, “the digital divide has me far more concerned than the digital-versus-paper choice.”

Free children’s books via Happy Meals and the McPlay app

The free book program is scheduled to run during November, which is National Family Literacy Month, and expects to deliver some 20 million books via Happy Meals and internet download.

The Happy Meal book giveaway is “the latest step in our ongoing efforts to enrich the lives of families,” said Ubong Ituen, vice president of marketing for McDonald’s USA, “and part of a broader book strategy that will combine the fun of the Happy Meal, new partners and technology to inspire more family reading time.”

The program includes these book distribution vehicles:

  • Eboooks via McPlay: Using the free McPlay app for mobile devices, people can download a free ebook from DK Publishing’s Amazing World series. The first title available is The World’s Greatest Cities. A different ebook will be available, free,  every month for the next year.
  • Paper books via Happy Meals: Starting November 1, Every Happy Meal will come with a free paper book. (The Happy Meal Books will also be available for download at
  • Spanish versions of McDonald’s Happy Meal Books will be available on and

Four Happy Meal Books

The four books being given out during November in Happy Meals are:

  • “The Goat Who Ate Everything” – Tells a 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” – Follows happy-go-lucky bird Doddi who travels the world. She eats right because this dodo is always on the go-go.

4 thoughts on “Free Children’s Books With Those Fries: Are Digital Books the Literary Equivalent of Junk Food?

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