Bill Crist

These days, taking a book that contains a warning about its content into the classroom can be a risky proposition. Amid fears that books might contain passages about sex, drugs, religion or other “objectionable” topics, the list of approved reading materials seems to grow smaller each year. There is one children’s book that contains not just one, but two warnings, is a classroom favorite and will probably be read to and by students across the nation next week.

Eleven years ago the National Education Association (NEA) teamed up with Dr. Seuss Enterprises to create a nationwide day focused on the importance of reading to children. Each year that date is set to coincide with Seuss’ birthday, and this year Read Across America will be celebrated on Monday, March 3. Study after study proves how valuable reading to children can be, starting with parents reading to infants. Even though they will not be able to understand what’s being said, the sound of their parent’s voice — not to mention the time spent one-on-one — is important to their development.

Choosing to use Dr. Seuss (real name Theodore Seuss Geisel) as the basis for a national children’s reading effort seems logical in many ways. Many of us grew up being read, and then reading, his classics “The Cat in the Hat,” “Green Eggs and Ham,” and “Horton Hears a Who!” His most popular books feature patterns of almost song-like rhymes wrapped around made-up characters that spend time doing the most incredible things.

Some schools make events of Read Across America day, with teachers dressing as characters from Seuss’ books, guest readers visiting the classrooms to read to students and activities celebrating reading in general. Some of you may have volunteered to participate in Read Across America day, taking time to read one or more books to a classroom of elementary-school students. This is an important age for young readers, as listening to an adult read helps give them an appreciation of the skill, and also serves as a motivation to read more themselves. “Young readers need to become practiced at reading, and the only way to get good is to practice,” says Donna New Haschke, president of the Texas State Teachers Association.

Parents can employ a number of methods at home that will help encourage young readers. Reading time should be a set-aside quiet, but fun, time for parent and child. Talk about what’s happened in the chapter or book you’ve just finished. Help children with difficult words, and explain about confusing concepts. As their reading skills develop, have them read to you — although it’s still important for you to be the reader as well. And as Joe Bean with TSTA says, “don’t fret if ‘Captain Underpants’ has captivated your child rather than Robinson Crusoe.” Remember that the goal is to get our children reading. Period.

There are books with disclaimers and warnings, though, that should be heeded — particularly if read in front of an elementary school class. This is one of those “been there, made that mistake” suggestions. If the book’s cover says something along the lines of, “This is a book you read aloud to find out just how smart your tongue is. The first time you read it, don’t go fast. This Fox is a tricky fox. He’ll try to get your tongue in trouble,” heed the warning.

That’s what it says right on the cover of the Seuss classic “Fox in Socks.” A second warning, “Take it slowly. This book is dangerous” appears on the first page. Like other Seuss books, the rhymes weave and build on each other, from page to page; the characters are unfamiliar although their actions are pretty basic; and the tongue-twisting gets under way early and grows in difficulty. Read too quickly or carelessly, the Fox’s conversation read aloud can lead to some rather “adult” phrases, which are probably best avoided in front of small children. But for a mindful, careful reader and that fortunate child, “Oh The Places You’ll Go.”

Bill Crist is general manager and associate publisher of the Brownwood Bulletin. His column appears on Wednesday. He may be reached by e-mail at bill.crist@brownwoodbulletin.com.