One of the first books I remember reading is Dr. Seuss’s One Fish, Two Fish, Red Fish, Blue Fish. At my elementary school, I learned the location of the Seuss shelf and spent library time sitting spread-eagled on the floor, a pile of brightly colored books beside me. Seuss’s illustrations for The Butter Battle Book captivated me, and The Lorax made me a lifelong environmentalist. Sure, as I grew older, there were other tomes that had a more marked and profound impact on me (I chose French as my second language so I could read Victor Hugo’s Les Miserables in the original), but I’d have never read those other works if it hadn’t been for gifted children’s authors who ignited my imagination and made me understand that narrative is real magic: it creates whole new worlds as well as influencing this one.
March 2nd is Read Across America Day. Founded by the National Education Association in 1998, this annual celebration of the joy of reading coincides with Doctor Seuss’s (Theodor Geisel’s) birthday and continues to grow in popularity. “Dr. Seuss really did turn the world of children’s literature on its head,” says Carole Dennis, Youth Services Librarian for the Haywood County, NC Public Library. Originally an illustrator and humor writer for adults, Geisel was inspired by a 1954 Life Magazine report regarding illiteracy among America’s school children. In response, Geisel crafted his seminal children’s book, The Cat in the Hat. Eventually he would author 44 books and inspire countless others.
“At that moment, kids’ books went from didactic lessons on manners crafted for little girls in white gloves and dresses to exciting adventures involving talking gold fish and lions juggling apples,” says Dennis. “Seuss redesigned, and invigorated, the genre.”
This year, Dennis met with others in her town of Waynesville, NC–Vicki Hyatt of The Mountaineer newspaper and Allison Best-Teague, co-owner of Blue Ridge Books–to discuss ways to encourage local families to make the most of the day. What ensued was a county-wide initiative for families of young children to turn off the televisions, computers, and texting devices during March 2 and instead to spend quality time reading together. “This gives us all the opportunity to promote reading, and also to talk about the books we love the most,” says Best-Teague.
Local parents are very much onboard with the initiative. Nicole Talbert (whose terrific daughter, Emma, is a classmate of my daughter) hopes families will have a chance to enjoy the experience of reading “at least one book as a family [to] see how awesome it is to learn with your child.”
This coming Saturday, I’ll be taking my kids to Dr. Seuss’s birthday party at Blue Ridge Books. In the meantime, my Read Across America day will include reading The Lorax to my children’s classes and giving each student a few sunflower seeds, which is as close as I can get to Seuss’s wonderful truffula seeds. Heck, I may even stay for lunch of green eggs and ham in the cafeteria.
But can I have them with a goat?
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Angela Dove is an award-winning columnist and author of the true crime memoir No Room for Doubt: A True Story of the Reverberations of Murder (Penguin Group, 2009). For more information visit www.AngelaDove.com.