Getting ready to read

Readers using Asian languages read down, following the vertical path of the letters. But, in many other places — like America — we read across.

On Monday, we will be Reading Across America.

It’s time for the 17th annual National Education Association’s Read Across America literacy program, held each year on March 2, Dr.Seuss’s birthday. Most events this year will take place on Monday, March 3, when school is in session. Say what you will about wordster Dr. Seuss or his playful Cat in the Hat— the mascot of the day — students who don’t read at grade level are four times more likely to drop out of school. That NEA statistic is far more alarming than an oversized red-and-white-striped hat — on a cat.

Here is what I am doing to honor Read Across America: renewing my passion of looking up one new word a day. Today, I found the word “natant” — floating or swimming in water. I have a weakness for dictionaries. When I bought my home eight years ago, I purchased myself a housewarming present: a fat, white American Heritage dictionary. It has a few pictures on each page, too.

I’m also reading this month’s selection for my book club: “Looking for Alaska” by John Green. We’ve already read “The Fault in Our Stars” by this author and they are both stunning, young adult, coming-of-age novels, which is our theme for this year. It’s my particular genre favorite in books and movies. I don’t need a book club to motivate myself — reading has always been a prime interest of mine — but I do enjoy discussing the books. We also eat good desserts.

I can’t imagine a life without reading. It’s the last thing I do every night before bed. I walked to the library all the time growing up, and my parents had enrolled us in a book club. I waited at the doorstep each month for the letter carrier to deliver those books. But I know from the many interviews I’ve conducted for this job at schools all over the state that many homes do not have books. The families may not have money to buy books and they may not have transportation to get to the library. They may not have an established history of reading. The families may be transient and, therefore, have no way to store books. In some families, there are those who cannot read, so there are no books on the shelves. Some families are homeless and have no shelves or books. Some families only know TV and video games.

Read Across America hopes to introduce — or reintroduce — reading to more and more people. And the legacy of Theodor Seuss Geisel — Massachusetts-born writer, cartoonist and poet — is helping to accomplish that.

Books and resources for anyone working with kids in need can be found at First Book. That program, which has partnered with the AFT and NYSUT, has already distributed 110 million books to 90,000 schools. First Book Marketplace is an online resource available to NYSUT members who work in Title I schools and community-based programs serving children in need from birth to age 18. Books are available from this not-for-profit for 50-90 percent below retail prices.

I’ve been there to see the faces of some of those children receiving these books. They are new. They are hardcover. They are shiny. They are good stories including “The Cat in the Hat” by the aforementioned Dr. Seuss. Don’t stop there. There are stories for learning and for fun. There are historical books, global books, bestselling books and myths.

For lesson plans tailored to the goals of Read Across America, check out the American Federation of Teachers Share My Lesson site for reading guidelines, certificates to recognize progress in reading, and much more.

Educators can access author studies and classroom resources here at this Read Across America site.

Read Across America is also partnering with dental health awareness. NEA reports that American students miss 51 million hours of school a year due to oral health problems, which means they are missing critical instruction time.

So tonight, right after I brush and floss, I will be climbing in bed with a book waiting for me. It might be poetry. It might be a human interest book. It might be fiction. Whatever it is, it will be read.

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