Reading across America volunteers, 2007
Volunteers spend day trying to create new generation of readers
Illiteracy problems among schoolchildren were recognized as early as 1954, when a published report found American youngsters were not learning to read because their books were boring.
Those findings inspired Theodor Geisel’s publisher to send the children's author a list of 400 words he believed children should learn, and urged Geisel to write a book — one that children would enjoy reading — by using the
words. Geisel used just 220 of them to write "The Cat in the Hat," one of the most enduring pieces of children's literature ever.
Yesterday, as a way of celebrating the man who has become part of the fabric of American culture, libraries all across Allegany County held events as part of Read Across America. Dr. Seuss, as Geisel is better known, would be proud.
At the Washington Street Library in Cumberland, children of all ages were entertained by adults who read aloud to them, or who handed out door prizes while dressed up as the cat from "The Cat in the Hat." And more than a few children named a Dr. Seuss book as their favorite. One of those children was Brady Shaffer, a first-grader at Northeast Elementary School.
"Green Eggs and Ham," Brady said immediately, when asked to name his favorite book.
"He loves to read," Cindy Shaffer, Brady's mom, said.
To encourage reading, Cindy said she read to Brady from the time he was very young.
Starting early is just one of the tips the National Education Association recommends for parents. Even as young as six weeks is not too young, the NEA said. Other tips include surrounding children with a "reading-rich environment," talking with your children, and reading aloud to them — things which will make reading more fun for children. And the payoff will be well worth it.
A national reading assessment of fourth-graders found that students who read for fun on a daily basis had the highest reading scores.
Cindy agrees that teaching children to read is crucial. "It's the basis for all learning," she said.
Part of that learning occurs as children begin to understand what they read. The NEA says such comprehension will lead children to develop critical thinking skills. "We know that kids who read — and are read to — do better in school and in life," NEA President Reg Weaver said.
Cumberland mother Kelly Schrecengost agrees with Weaver. Her five children are home-schooled, so "we kind of do it (reading) all day long." Schrecengost believes reading is vital because "it opens up a world for them you can't open up any other way."
Tangela Wilson, also of Cumberland, said reading to children is "very important for language and development" skills. She and her husband read to their 4-month-old son, Gunner. But daughter Cierra, 4, also plays a role. "She pretends to read to him," Wilson said.
This is the 10th anniversary for Read Across America, and Barbara Riffey, a children's librarian at Cumberland, said the local program grows bigger each year. At least 95 children attended the Washington Street event.
Riffey said children are captivated by the works of Dr. Seuss because they "are repetitive, rhyming and very catchy." His work endures because "he wrote so many interesting books in so many different ways."
While his books may be among the most favored, children at Sunday's event spoke about other authors they also like. Brianna Olinger, age 9, said she loves the Lemony Snicket series — and has read all 15. Brianna reads a book a week.
Angie Garcia and Holly Sauder were two of the Frostburg State University students who helped in this year's event. Both are elementary education majors, who have an idea of what is needed to help get children to read. "You have to stop and ask questions," Garcia said. "Get them involved."
Books that have interesting pictures, repeating phrases, and which aren't too wordy, Sauder said, are good for holding younger children's attention.
Doing that can lead to the results seen by parents such as Shaffer. Her son's "interest (in reading) has blossomed" in the last year.
It must be true, for as Sunday's celebration came to a close, Brady carried out a pile of books from the library. There was "There's a Wocket in My Pocket," and "That's Good, That's Bad," among others.
He doesn't need to check out his favorite book, for Brady's copy of "Green Eggs and Ham," yet another favorite from the prolific Dr. Seuss, is waiting for him at home.
Daleen Berry, Cumberland Times-News
Laura Strong, a senior elementary education student at Frostburg State University, reads to children Saturday afternoon during the Read Across America celebration at the main Allegany County Library on Washington Street in Cumberland.
Public libraries, Maryland, Allegany County; Allegany County Library System (Md.), Anniversaries.
Allegany County (Md,), 1924-2010