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Celebrating Seuss

Sean Thielen heard about a party at the neighborhood school last week that everyone was invited to attend. He decided to check it out.

Sean, 12, was happy to be there as soon as he stepped into the brightly lit room. He had his face painted and made a red-and-white striped top hat from construction paper. He ate birthday cake slathered with white frosting and drank green punch from a plastic cup.

He made a bookmark and listened to a reading from one of his favorite books, Green Eggs and Ham. Then came the evening's high point: eating scrambled eggs tinted a delicate green with his friend Mickey Dexter.

The boys were among nearly 300 children, parents and teachers who turned out Thursday night for the centerpiece of a two-week "Seussabration" at Skyview Elementary School, 8601 60th St. N. The annual event is part of a national program called Read Across America that commemorates Dr. Seuss' birthday while encouraging children to read for the fun of it.

Sean, a sixth-grader at Pinellas Park Middle School, started reading Dr. Seuss books when he was "a young kid," but he still finds much to recommend the author.

"First off, he's funny," Sean said. "Plus, he had a really special talent. He knew how to rhyme. Everything just flows about his writing."

Seuss' perennial appeal inspired student achievement specialist Jana Maples to come up with the idea for Skyview's celebration six years ago. What began as a one-day event has evolved into an extravaganza the school community looks forward to for weeks.

"The first year, we had two or three rocking chairs with different teachers and parents reading stories," Maples said. "I thought people would come for a little while and leave, but they stayed for the whole two hours."

Activities based on events in Dr. Seuss' books have been added each year. This year's celebration kicked off Feb. 24 with Red Shirt Day, then Crazy Sock Day, followed by Wacky Wednesday, when everyone was encouraged to come to school wearing their clothes backward or inside-out. By Thursday night, the children were primed for the birthday party in the school cafeteria.

Kindergarten teacher Suzanne Miller read Green Eggs and Ham. After each session _ and demand necessitated she read the story three times _ Miller asked, "Who wants some green eggs?"

"I do! I do!" the children chorused.

How do the eggs get their color? "It's a secret recipe," she replied. "It could be broccoli, it could be brussels sprouts."

New to the celebration this year was a student coffeehouse Maples set up in one of the portable classrooms. Eleven children read original poems or short stories in front of a backdrop created by paraprofessional Terri Morin. Kindergarten teacher Rosemary Blanco, who introduced the students, said the opportunity to read their own works encourages them to write more, and that performing in front of their peers gives them confidence.

Amber Tatro, 10, was one of the authors. She climbed atop a tall stool and began her story with the question, "What if your classmate was an alien?"

Shane Stockings, 6, read a book he wrote and illustrated called Very Snowy Days. The child, who admitted he has never seen snow, said the story came from his imagination.

Stimulating the imagination and encouraging kids to read is what Dr. Seuss was all about, Maples said, explaining that his stories also teach kids writing skills. Throughout the celebration, teachers used the books to illustrate techniques such as rhyming and alliteration.

But the lessons were not restricted to reading and writing. Second-grade teacher Tamika Morris turned her students' interest in Dr. Seuss into a math lesson by polling them on their favorite book and then helping them chart their preferences on a graph. Other teachers blended the books into character education lessons.

"All of Dr. Seuss' books have a message," Miller said. "The message behind The Cat in the Hat is "Don't be afraid to try new things.' The message in Gertrude McFuzz is "Be careful about what you wish for, and be happy with what you have.' "

Maples thinks Dr. Seuss' greatest legacy to children was his joy for language.

"He showed them how much fun reading can be, that it doesn't have to be a stodgy subject," she said. "Words are fun, language is fun, sounds are fun. They learn that the more they read, the more fun it gets."

Tips for reading to children

Kindergarten through third grade:

+ Keep reading to your child even after he or she can read. Read books that are too difficult or too long for your child to read alone.

+ Try reading books with chapters and talk about what is happening in the story. Encourage your child to make predictions about what will happen next and connect characters or events to those in other books and stories.

+ Talk with your child about reading preferences that are beginning to develop. Ask whether he or she likes adventure stories, mysteries, science fiction, animal stories or stories about other children.

+ Talk with your child about favorite authors and seek out books by those authors together.

+ Take turns reading a story with your child. Don't interrupt to correct mistakes that do not change the meaning.

+ Talk about the meaning of new words and ideas introduced in books. Help your child think of examples of new concepts.

+ Talk to your child about stories, using the notions of the beginning, middle and end, to organize thinking and discussion.

+ Ask your child to tell why a character might have taken a specific action. Ask for information from the story to support his or her answer.

Grades 4-6:

+ Ask your child to compare a book with another familiar book. How are the characters alike or different? Do the stories take place in similar settings? How are the illustrations the same or different?

+ Ask what part of the story or book your child liked best and why.

+ Ask if your child liked the ending of the story. Why or why not?

+ Ask your child what type of mood the story or chapter in a book creates. Ask how the author creates the mood. Is it done through words, events or settings that create a particular feeling?

+ If your child has read more than one book by the same author, ask how the books are similar or different.

_ Compiled from the National Education Association's Reading Matters. For more reading tips and information, visit the Reading Matters Web site, www.readingmatters.net.

Teachers' top five books for children:

1. Charlotte's Web by E.B. White

2. The Polar Express by Chris Van Allsburg

3. Green Eggs and Ham by Dr. Seuss

4. The Cat in the Hat by Dr. Seuss

5. Where the Wild Things Are by Maurice Sendak

Kids' top five books:

1. Harry Potter (series) by J.K. Rowling

2. Goosebumps (series) by R.L. Stine

3. Green Eggs and Ham by Dr. Seuss

4. The Cat in the Hat by Dr. Seuss

5. Arthur (series) by Marc Brown

Up next:ACHIEVERS

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