Seuss stirs imagination, sparks reading

By Greg Gelpi

The food and dress may have been different Wednesday, but the message remained the same.

Donning tall red and white-striped hats and white shirts with red bows, second-graders at Hawthorne Elementary School snacked on homemade biscuits loaded with the special of the day - green eggs and ham.

The clothes and the meal were part of the National Education Association's Read Across America, held annually to mark Dr. Seuss' birthday.

While Kathryn Holloman's students ate the green eggs and ham, parent volunteers read aloud Seuss' book "Green Eggs and Ham" and others by the children's author.

"I think it's wonderful," parent volunteer Sheila Phinazee, whose daughter Elise is in the class, said. "It's like a real immersion because they get to experience the food, the clothes and parents come in."

Phinazee said her children grew up with Dr. Seuss books, as did she, calling the rhyming and often silly books "fun," "very imaginative" and "inventive."

"He's part of our culture," Phinazee said. "I don't think we could have Christmas without the Grinch."

She called the series of events a "holiday," but the day taught children that reading can be fun.

"I like the rhymes," Alexa Belancourt, 8, said. "They're funny and strange."

The stories stir her imagination, Belancourt said.

"I always think oh here comes another strange story," she said.

The stories include non-sensical made-up words that draw young readers in and draw upon their creativity.

"I like that he is funny," Erin Lopez, 8, said.

Clayton County schools Superintendent Barbara Pulliam also participated in Read Across America events, reading books aloud from her personal collection to school children of another class and interacting with them to get them to think about the stories.

One story even led to a discussion about milking cows and how chocolate milk comes into existence. Although one kindergartner suggested that chocolate milk comes from mixing chocolate syrup in plain milk, another suggested that it can be created by feeding a cow chocolate and then milking the cow.

"I think it's important for them to read and for them to get excited about reading," Holloman said after handing out the homemade green eggs and ham biscuits. "Anything that I can use to capture their attention and get them to read, I'll use."

Brenda Kirk's fifth grade students have a wide variety of reading tastes from Harry Potter to Captain Underpants.

"We do all kinds of reading activities everyday," Kirk said, adding that students are sharing their favorite books for Read Across America. "We just try to make it fun and enjoyable."

Competing against the television and video games can be tough, but when students read they enhance and improve vocabulary and reading comprehension, she said.

"Their first choice is always going to be the video game, but when they're not available they just take to the reading material," Kirk said.

The Hawthorne Elementary events were only some of the events held throughout Clayton County schools and the Clayton County library system.

"While we have many special events during the school year to celebrate reading and the integral role that it plays in everyone's life, Dr. Seuss' birthday, is especially dear to our hearts," said Cindy Thompson, coordinator of media services for the school system. "Dr. Seuss was instrumental in creating imaginative characters and wonderful stories that formed many of our students' initial experiences in visiting libraries and choosing their very first book to check out. It is only fitting that his birthday be the focal point of a national celebration of reading."

This year's celebration would have been Dr. Seuss' 101st birthday.