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For the week of Mar. 8 through Mar. 14, 2000

Seuss on the loose

You’re never too old, wacky or wild to pick up a book and read to a child.

Express Staff Writer

Adam West (aka Batman) reads Dr. Seuss(Express photo by David M. Seelig)

Holy smokes, Batfans, Adam West reads Dr. Seuss at the Wood River Middle School!

Thursday, West, who played the Caped Crusader in the original, mid-1960s Batman TV series, joined forces with teachers to help squash illiteracy and promote a healthy love of the written word in the Wood River Valley.

For three years in a row, March 2 has been an excuse for millions of students and teachers to run amok in the name of Read Across America day, a national celebration of reading.

As writers know, their most important job is getting readers to turn the page. And writers have been getting a little help from educators, who have, among other things, eaten bugs and allowed students to give principals punk rock hairdos as rewards for reading.

March 2 is also the birthday of the highly esteemed children’s author, Dr. Seuss, who would have been 96 years old on Thursday.

West, a valley resident for 12 years, wore a two-foot-high, red and white floppy top hat while reading Smart to about 60 sixth, seventh and eighth graders. His deep, radio-trained voice reverberated captivatingly in the middle school’s cavernous front foyer.

The story is about a kid who trades a dollar for two quarters, then three dimes, then four nickels, then five pennies, because, of course, five is more than four, which is more than three, etc.

West read Smart, he said, because the principal thought it would be appropriate for this group.

"Are any of you bored, yet?" he asked after finishing the story.

"No!" the group cried.

Last year, according to the National Education Association, which created Read Across America, 20 million children celebrated reading on ships, in stadiums and in schools on March 2. Children read with firefighters, nurses, judges and celebrities.

In an era of whiz-bang multi-media entertainment that is so successful at seizing kids’ attentions and keeping it—if not nurturing their minds—educators will do almost anything, it seems, to get kids to read a good book.

And they’re succeeding.

At the Augusta A. Mayo Elementary School in Compton, Calif., principal Faye Sarfan challenged her student body this school year to read 600,000 pages by April 15. The pay off? Beyond the obvious enrichment of the students’ minds, Sarfan promised to dye her hair green at a school-wide Read Across America assembly.

So far, students have read more than 740,000 pages.

In Franklin Lakes, N. J., parents and children signed contracts to "pull the plugs" on their TVs and computers Thursday and spend the extra time reading together.

Also on Thursday, to promote Read Across America, the Cat in the Hat rang the opening bell on the New York Stock Exchange.

Indeed, Dr. Seuss was on the loose.

Read Across America got started in May 1997 by an NEA task force that wanted to create the equivalent of a pep rally for reading. With the number of participants doubling from 10 million in 1998 to 20 million in 1999, the event seems to be an idea whose time has come. Today, the NEA calls it "the largest celebration of reading this country has ever seen."

President Clinton and Newt Gingrich have participated, as have Cal Ripkin, Jr., James Earl Jones and Carly Simon. The list goes on and on.

Last year, a principal in Jackson, Tenn., made headlines when he ate worms to reward students for reading 10,000 books.

Besides all the silliness, the NEA says reading to children is one of the most important things any adult can do to create good readers.

Dr. Seuss books are especially good, the NEA says, because the stories play with language and spark the imagination. The rhyming and silly sounds, the organization says, help children fall in love with language.

For more information on helping children learn to read, check out the NEA’s Web site at


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