By the end of 2016, McDonald’s will have given away 50 million books in Happy Meals

Now with stories.
Now with stories.
Image: AP Photo/Jeff Chiu
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McDonald’s wants American bellies full of bacon and American minds full of stories.

Since the fast-food giant launched a literacy program three years ago, it has tucked millions of children’s books into its famous Happy Meals. This year’s books, available now until Feb. 15, include Paddington and several Valentine’s Day-themed titles.

The company estimates by the end of this year it will have given away 50 million books in the US.  That’s slightly more than one for each of the 47 million US children under age 12. Estimates show one third of Americans under 19 eat fast food on a given day.

The fast-food chain may be trying to improve its image with regards to kids. In recent years it has come under fire for promoting unhealthy soda in Happy Meals and for ramped up advertising toward children. In 2013, the company pledged to make improvements to its health record, with mixed results.

In Nov. 2013, McDonald’s launched Happy Meal Books to promote literacy with nonprofit Reading Is Fundamental, giving away 17 million books in two weeks. The titles were limited-edition McD’s originals, each centered around an animal learning about healthy eating.

In Jan. 2015, the program switched to already popular children’s book titles, including If You Give a Mouse a Cookie.