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The Cat in the Hat Throws a Party to Get Kids to Read

Celebrating With Dr. Seuss

There won't be any Sneetches or Grinches crashing this birthday party. It will be Lorna Heilbronner and her retired friends serving up cake and Dr. Seuss in a mobile-home park in Eugene, Ore. And it will be businessmen dishing out Green Eggs and Ham to schoolchildren in Haverhill, Mass.

Across the country, thousands of children will gather on March 2 in little parties and big parades to celebrate reading and a favorite author.

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The idea hatched when New Jersey teacher Sharon Suskin asked her union to help get kids excited about reading. After some brainstorming, - and the nod from Dr. Seuss's widow, Audrey Geisel - the National Education Association took off with the idea of celebrating the writer's birthday in a party called Read Across America.

When word got out, the idea ran away like a Seuss character. "There's more stuff than I can keep up with," says David McGloin, the NEA coordinator for the event. "I thought it would be really, really good. But I didn't think it would be this really, really good."

To start things off, an eight-foot tall Cat in the Hat paraded on Feb. 12 in Springfield, Mass., where Dr. Seuss - Theodor Geisel - grew up. Since then, he's been in New York and Philadelphia.

Mrs. Geisel will read her favorite Seuss books at the San Diego Public Library. But the celebrations that tickle Mr. McGloin are the small-scale parties like Ms. Heilbronner's. "It's a way to get adults to sit down with children for a while," McGloin says. "It's a way of sharing the value of reading and community."

Heilbronner, a retired schoolteacher, said she had invited Head Start children to her mobile-home park, and lined up 40 other retirees to read to them.

"I think it's important for grandparent types to stay in touch with kids,'' she says. "And at the least, the kids will have a book to take home with them."

Boston School Superintendent Thomas Payzant, who knew Mr. Geisel, guesses that the author would have had mixed feelings about the celebration.

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"I think he would have been very pleased about his work having such an impact on literacy," Mr. Payzant says. "But he was very modest and diffident."

"There's a wonderful thing about his stories that connects adults with children," Payzant says. "Adults have fun reading them, and that makes it fun for children, too."

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