With stapler in hand, Sheriff Richard Nugent seemed a little bewildered. He was supposed to be stapling together a paper bowl and plate that would make the body of a toy spaceship.
Somehow, the pieces weren't fitting together exactly right.
"I'm struggling here," said Hernando County's top law enforcement officer. "I guess it's obvious that this isn't one of my bigger talents."
Still, Nugent eventually got the hang of it, and before the night was through several dozen youngsters at Pine Grove Elementary had a model of the craft pictured in the Dr. Seuss storybook There's No Place Like Space!
Nugent was among several local dignitaries who took part in the school's fourth annual Dr. Seuss Birthday Bash last Thursday night.
For nearly three hours, the school cafeteria was packed with kids who came to enjoy an evening of activities, all focused on the writings of one of the country's most beloved children's authors.
At one table, Brooksville Mayor Richard Lewis regaled a group of young listeners with the rhymes of Green Eggs and Ham and later joined in serving up plates of aqua-colored scrambled eggs and roast ham.
At another station, Supervisor of Elections Annie Williams read from The Cat In The Hat before helping students cast votes for their favorite Seuss story.
"It's a wonderful way to celebrate the joy of reading," said Pine Grove principal Dave Danemiller, who donned a red and white striped stovepipe hat to greet visitors. "When kids see that reading is fun and enjoyable, it grabs their enthusiasm to want to read. And that's bound to make them better students."
Every year, Pine Grove Elementary and several other Hernando County elementary schools take part in the National Education Foundation's Read Across America campaign, which is said to attract more than 35-million participants around the country. At least part of that attraction, says Pine Grove reading teacher Paula Clark, is the timeless quality of Seuss' writings.
"We have parents and grandparents here who were raised on Dr. Seuss stories," said Clark, who organizes the annual Seuss celebration at Pine Grove. "Over the years, that's helped to form a special bond between parents and their children. The books are fun to read, even if you're an adult."
Which is why Flo Jose attends the event each year with her granddaughter Candy Trichler. As she watched the 10-year-old cut out a paper hat, she recalled how enamored her daughter was when she first read her one of Seuss' books.
Said Jose, "I remember reading Green Eggs and Ham to my daughter when she was 3, and you know what? She was reading the book to herself the next day. It was wonderful to watch her point out the words and say them to herself. I think they made her the reading lover she is today."
Ricardo Hudson, a math teacher at Powell Middle School, believes that Seuss' works make for perfect parent-child reading matter at home. His 7-year-old son, Terrance, a first-grader at Pine Grove, took a liking to Seuss' The Foot Book at an early age.
"He reads to us for 10 minutes every night," said Hudson. "When parents show they're interested in helping their children to read, it encourages them to want to read more."