Read Across America Has A Twist This Year

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Larry Johnson (in striped hat) and Jennings Bird read Dr. Seuss.
Larry Johnson (in striped hat) and Jennings Bird read Dr. Seuss.

by Gene Marrano

There was a new twist on Dr. Seuss’ birthday (March 2) for Read Across America Day. For the first time members of four Rotary Clubs, several Kiwanis Clubs, Lions Clubs, Glenvar High School Key Club and Keyettes and Masons read in elementary classrooms across the valley.

The cooperative project was spearheaded by Will Powers, immediate past-president of the Glenvar Rotary Club. Nineteen civic clubs in total read to students at several dozen schools. The Roanoke Valley Rotary Club read to youngsters at Highland Park Elementary in Roanoke City and at Back Creek Elementary in southwest Roanoke County. At Back Creek, club president Jennings Byrd, donning his gaucho hat from Brazil, was one of several rotary members that read from new Dr. Seuss books, which they then left behind for the school’s library.

Reading Across America is held each year on March 2, the anniversary of the birth date of Dr. Theodore Geisel – author of the often tongue-twisting Dr. Seuss books.

At Back Creek, Bird and company read books like Green Eggs & Ham, I Can Read With My Eyes Shut, Can You?, and Inside Your Outside. Teachers also read to students as in past years. Back Creek Principal Virginia Sharp noted that programs like the Book Buddies Club – where 5th graders read to kindergartners – and the school’s journalism club, help spur student interest.

“Who’s reading the Cat in the Hat?” Sharp asked Rotary Club members as she led them down the hallways, sending volunteers into classrooms two at a time to greet teachers and students. It was back to school for Jennings Bird and Larry Johnson, Rotarians who chose Green Eggs & Ham and Inside Your Outside for their second graders.

“[We] want to encourage them to read and help them realize how much fun it is,” said Bird of the Rotary Club’s goal in participating. This is the first year that civic clubs have covered all 37 elementary schools in the valley.

“I bet you’d love to wear this hat,” joked teacher Kathy Good, donning one of those red and white striped hats worn by, of course, The Cat in the Hat. Johnson in fact did wear one while reading his book (showing off the illustrations after every two pages) while Bird stuck to his gaucho hat, which resembled an Irish Tam-O-Shanter. “I’ve got a semi-goofy hat,” joked Bird about his cap.

“How big is your brain? This is quite a surprise,” Johnson read from Inside Your Outside, which described the inner workings of the human body in words designed to capture the attention of young readers – or listeners in this case. “Can you reach back there and feel your vertebrae?” asked Good of her students when Johnson read a passage about the back. Many of Geisel’s books, like Inside Your Outside, continued to be published long after his death.

“There’s lots of stuff to read, just look at that bookcase,” said Bird to students in Good’s class before it was his turn. “Dr. Seuss is always fun to read, isn’t it?” he asked. There were plenty of yeses from his young audience. “This has been fun to be here and read to you all,” said Bird before he and Johnson left the second grade classroom – and Dr. Seuss – behind.