Lithgow reaches out to children with Cheerios

This fall, John Lithgow plays director Blake Edwards in HBO’s “The Life and Death of Peter Sellers” and the father of sex researcher Alfred Kinsey in “Kinsey” from Fox Searchlight.

But his most prominent role may come courtesy of General Mills, maker of Cheerios.

To mark the start of Children’s Book Week on Nov. 15, Cheerios is stuffing 5 million copies of Simon & Schuster kids books inside Cheerios boxes.

“Micawber,” Lithgow’s picture book about a New York squirrel obsessed with the Metropolitan Museum of Art, is one of five mini-sized S&S titles being put inside Cheerios boxes.

Educators may blanche at the encroachment of product placement onto kids reading lists, but publishers don’t have the same compunctions. Clifford the Big Red Dog appears on Lipton soup labels; Harry Potter figurines appear in McDonald’s Happy Meals; and S&S already sells a line of Cheerios picture books.

“Somebody has to be an advocate for getting kids to read,” says Jane Startz, a producer of such kids movies as “Tuck Everlasting” and “Ella Enchanted.” “If that means there’s some quid pro quo for doing that, that’s just a fact of life.”

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