There are all sorts of places for children to access the sort of interesting books that come in bite-size pieces. Breakfast cereal boxes have to be one of the most attention-grabbing, if not unusual, locations to find your next storybook adventure!
It must be a sure-fire headturner or, let’s face it, marketing companies (who have the huge accounts of the big cereal manufacturers at their disposal) wouldn’t throw their funds at it.
They know that pester power will only produce revenue if the freebies have novelty value – new ‘flavours of the month’ not only in terms of ringing the changes in cereal varieties but also in the nature of the gifts.
Multi-national take-out companies have been offering Kid’s Meal Bag toys for years. Often the toys correspond with the latest hype in movies and are battery-operated little gizmos. Many kids however, feel that they have ‘seen it all before.’ Their attention, and pocket money, will only be drawn by something different. But what to offer them?
Well, it seems that Nestle has hit upon the idea of putting short adventure story books in some of their cereal brand packets in order to encourage more kids to choose their products. But does this work and is it a good thing? Does it attract children to the lifelong open door that reading brings or does it simply create high carb sugar junkies? Marketed in the UK as Cookie Crisp, one of the special pack varieties has flakes that look like mini Choc Chip cookies.
The stories in question are produced by a long-established publishing company – Simon and Schuster. In one of the cereal brand packs was the story ‘The Spiderwick Chronicles.’ Part of the ‘Books for Young Readers’ series, they were published in the USA, and written by Toni DiTerlizzi and Holly Black.
The little pocket sized books inside the cereal packets even have ISBN numbers and catalogue records at worthy establishments such as the British Library. But are the stories gripping and do they have any educational value?
Taking an example, the special edition of The Seeing Stone features a short story called Goblins Attack. The hero, Jared, returns home after school to his creepy old house. He has not had a good day. He has been taunted and has suffered a detention for retaliating. His twin brother is fixated on his missing pet cat and his sister is fixated on practising to win a fencing tournament.
Disappointed at how irritating he finds them, and at the let-down of missing out on the supposedly psychic special powers that twins are supposed to share, Jared seeks solace in the secret world of a hidden room upstairs in the rambling old house. There lives Thimbletack, the tailor brownie.
Thimbletack has an unsympathetic but matter-of-fact approach to life which he presents in annoying riddles. As the unlikely friends gaze out of the window, they see Jared’s brother being set upon by some kind of invisible being. The boy appears to try to fight off the mystery attacker – but then vanishes himself. Jared and Thimblestack rush outside......
Only time will tell if these little stories catch on - or if they,indeed, increase cereal sales. The manufacturers, authors and publishers have certainly done their homework though. The tiny thin pocket-sized books are light, compact and attractive to kids.
Short stories are fun, quick and rewarding to read and the covers and illustrations are lively and engaging. The ratio of pictures to words is excellent for younger readers just starting to read independently – most double pages have a charming illustration. However, the typeface is rather small.
If the little books stimulate interest in reading and if they spark demand for the longer version, the breakfast book may be a good idea. For those parents who worry about junk food, another idea might be to dispense with the cereals after a couple of boxes – and still have the reading interest remain.
Whether the kids will want to give up a newly acquired taste for a particular cereal brand is quite another question!