Merlene Davis: Author George Ella Lyon secures spot on and in cereal box

Local author and teacher George Ella Lyon has earned a reward usually reserved for famous athletes — sort of.

Her children's book, All the Water in the World is featured on the front of and inside some specially marked boxes of cereal currently on store shelves.

It's one of six condensed English and Spanish versions of picture books by prize-winning authors that will be free inside boxes of Cheerios, a product of General Mills, as part of the Cheerios Spoonfuls of Stories program, now in its 11th year. This year the program was launched in March.

"I went out March 1," Lyon said. "I got one and brought it home and then got another one."

That was her self-imposed limit, although she admits to picking a box up and petting it whenever she's in the cereal aisle.

"It is such a real thrill," she said.

Although the program celebrated its 10th anniversary last year with giveaways and special reading events with celebrities, I confess I missed it all. Now that my kids are grown and gone, I tend not to buy cereals with prizes inside. I'm just looking for fiber.

Lyon wasn't aware of the program either. She received a copy of the little book in November, but there was no explanation with it.

"I called the publisher and asked what this is about and she said it would be in Cheerios in March," Lyon said. "I was thinking the program was brand new."

Little did we know.

Spoonfuls of Stories began in 2002 as a joint venture of General Mills and Simon & Schuster. The program's goal was to reduce illiteracy by encouraging parents and children to take a moment to read together. The free books are appropriate for children ages 4 to 8.

In the first 10 years, Cheerios gave away 60 million books in the cereal boxes and donated nearly $4 million to First Book, a children's literacy nonprofit that gives low-income children a chance to own a book.

According to Lydia Finn, associate publicist at Simon & Schuster Children's Publishing, a list of picture books is sent to General Mills for review.

"An internal committee at General Mills, made up of employees who are parents, read all the books and bring home favorites to share with their kids," she said. "Then the committee discusses their favorites until a selection is made. They usually select titles that have environmental themes, have animal characters or include a 'moral of the story' type ending."

This year's selection also includes Say What? by Angela DiTerlizzi; Dream Away, by Julia Durango; Digby Takes Charge by Caroline Jayne Church; and Where is Home Little Pip? by Karma Wilson.

About one million copies of each book are printed and available March through May, as long as the supply lasts.

I went to Kroger on Bryan Station Road to find a box featuring Lyon's book and found only one remaining. Some of the other featured books were there, though.

All the Water in the World was published in 2011 and is filled with beautiful illustrations by Katherine Tillotson. The book is dedicated to American folk singer Pete Seeger; in it Lyon explains the water cycle in simple terms. It begins with "All the water in the world is all the water in the world," and then explains evaporation and condensation. Lyon also encourages children to be more environmentally mindful of water.

Lyon thinks that environmental connection may have garnered her a spot on this year's list of books. Regardless, she loves being there.

And so do a few people who have contacted her after reading it. Lyon said an 83-year-old reader contacted her because he knows Seeger.

"I never expected to hear from an elder reader," she said.

And, she received another note that included a picture of a child reading her book.

"As a kid, I loved getting stuff in cereal boxes," Lyon said. "Knowing that some kid will get this book is a real thrill."