HOULTON, Maine — Most adults in the state have heard of Dr. Seuss, but about 15 percent of Maine adults cannot read his popular children’s stories to someone else.
In an effort to lower or erase such statistics in future generations, educational partners in southern Aroostook County joined forces Tuesday to celebrate the 106th birthday of Dr. Seuss and laud the National Education Association’s Read Across America Day.
Dr. Seuss, or Theodor Seuss Geisel, was the author of such popular children’s books as “Green Eggs and Ham,” “The Cat in the Hat” and “Horton Hears a Who.”
Read Across America Day calls for every child in every community to celebrate reading.
According to the National Adult Literacy Survey, 15 percent of Maine adults are functioning at Level 1, meaning they can read a little, but not well enough to fill out an application, understand a food label or read a story to a child.
In Houlton, the University of Maine at Presque Isle, the Houlton-Hodgdon SAD 29 and SAD 70 Adult Education program and Northern Maine Community College held their own “Happy Birthday, Dr. Seuss!” event for preschoolers, elementary-age students and community members on Tuesday. The event encouraged kids to read “each day and each night,” and attendees left the gathering with a new book to read when they got home.
“We have done Dr. Seuss events before, but we haven’t done it this way, on this big of a scale,” said Jean Henderson, counselor and coordinator of student services at the Houlton Higher Education Center.
During morning and afternoon sessions, a total of 32 students from the Aroostook County Action Program’s Head Start classes came to the center to hear Dr. Seuss stories read to them by volunteers and college students. Streamers and signs decorated the lobby, and organizers had cupcakes and juice, book giveaways and door prizes of brand-new Dr. Seuss books to offer to participants. Otis Smith, the director of the SAD 29-SAD 70 adult education program, oversaw the distribution of books to all children who attended the event through the First Book program.
Linda Stevens, an ACAP Head Start teacher, brought her students to the celebration.
“These kids do lots of reading,” she said of her students during the afternoon session. “They were so excited to come to this. They even made gifts for Dr. Seuss, because they thought he was going to be here.”
While the students were not familiar with all of the author’s books, the youngsters recognized characters such as the Grinch and the Cat in the Hat.
Volunteer Carmel Bowers read the Seuss book “Oh, The Places You’ll Go” during the afternoon session. She held the students’ attention as she read the story, explained the illustrations and answered questions. Students reached for her hands and helped her form a circle to sing “Happy Birthday” to Dr. Seuss.
When the story was over, Bowers closed the book and looked at the students.
“So, where do you want to go?” she asked them.
“Bangor,” “McDonald’s” and “Wal-Mart” were the top choices.
Houlton was not the only place celebrating both the birthday of Dr. Seuss and Read Across America Day.
First lady Michelle Obama celebrated Dr. Seuss’ birthday in Washington on Tuesday by reading “The Cat in the Hat” to a group of children wearing red-and-white-striped stovepipe hats like the book’s main character.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.