Somewhere between 300 and 400 free books were doled out to children Saturday as Juneau participated in the annual Read Across America program.
The lobby of Thunder Mountain High School was packed with kids reading their favorite Dr. Seuss books, making bookmarks and getting their face painted. They even had to chance to meet The Cat in the Hat himself, along with his pals Thing 1 and Thing 2.
“She walked into the door and said, ‘He’s in a book!’” Kindergarten teacher JoAnn Steininger said of her 2-year-old granddaughter, who at first was shy to meet the mischievous cat. “Score for her mom and dad, right? It’s fun, she doesn’t want to leave.”
The event was held to celebrate the joy of reading and to promote reading among youth, said Julie Leary, the Harborview Elementary School librarian-teacher and the lead organizer of the event. She likened it to a pep rally for a sports team.
“We have pep rallies for sports, we have other kind of events and the National Educational Association got together and said let’s celebrate reading, and that was 16, 17 years ago,” Leary said. “And they thought what better day to do it than Dr. Seuss’ birthday.”
Read Across America has become the NEA’s signature program, and this year more than 45 millions people participated, according to their website. The NEA partners with Dr. Seuss Enterprises, L.P., and Random House to host the event on or around Dr. Seuss’ birthday.
Children’s author Dr. Seuss, whose real name was Theodor Seuss Geisel, would have been 109 years old if he were alive today, but his books still remain popular among readers of all ages, Leary noted.
“Even today when we have more competition with computers, games and electronic books and even today, the Dr. Seuss books are still very popular with kids through adults, really.”
Many of the school children in Juneau celebrated his birthday — March 2, 1904 — in their classrooms earlier this week by eating green eggs and ham cookies and making red-and-white Cat in the Hat hats. Saturday was a continuance of the fun, said Amber Tingey, mother of three.
“We love story time and reading,” Tingey said. “We got the reading bug.”
Most of the kids, like 9-year-old Alee Mueca, a third-grader at Mendenhall River, said their favorite Dr. Seuss book was The Cat in the Hat, which was first published in 1957.
“She loves Dr. Seuss,” Alee’s father Ray Mueca said. “She begged me to come. She even did all her chores this week just to come.”
The Juneau Education Association paid for 300 to 400 books to be donated during the event. The Friends of the Library helped in that effort by donating books to them, Leary said.
Andrea Stasyszen, a math teacher at Juneau-Douglas High School who has attended the event many times in the past with her four children, said that’s one of the best parts of the program.
“Anything fun to get another book in their hands,” she said.
She also said her kids get excited about the high school basketball and softball players who volunteer to read to them during the event. National Honor Society high school students also volunteered by helping kids with the arts and crafts.
“Seeing that peer mentorship is awesome,” Stasyszen said.
Juneau has participated in the Read Across America program for as long as she can remember, Leary said. She said she hopes it encourages parents to read with their kids for the recommended 20 minutes per day.
“But even if you can squeeze in 10 minutes a day, it helps,” Leary said. “It helps for them to be ready for school, and it’s really just a good experience for the child. And having kids seeing you read — newspapers, manuals, magazines, anything — having them seeing you read gets into their minds that reading is good. We want to get our kids reading, so it’s really neat to celebrate.”
• Contact reporter Emily Russo Miller at 523-2263 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.