Reading Across America week comes as publication stops on 6 Dr. Seuss books due to insensitive images

Kelly Monitz And Christine Lee, Standard-Speaker, Hazleton, Pa.
·4 min read

Mar. 3—POTTSVILLE — Read Across America week comes at an interesting time this year. Dr. Seuss Enterprises, the business that preserves and protects the author's legacy, announced it would stop publishing six of Dr. Seuss' books because they contain racist and insensitive imagery.

The books are "And to Think That I Saw It on Mulberry Street," "If I Ran the Zoo," "McElligot's Pool," "On Beyond Zebra!," "Scrambled Eggs Super!" and "The Cat's Quizzer."

The Hazleton Area Public Library will not be removing Dr. Seuss books from its shelves, Michele Kushmeder, executive director, said. As a public library, people can choose to read or not read books from its collection, she said. The books are not on mandatory reading lists, such as in a school setting, she said.

Kushmeder believes that parents can use the situation as teaching moment. The books were written in a different time and what was accepted in society then is different than today, and this has to be taken into consideration, she said.

People can't erase history, but perhaps they can look at the books and see how far we've come in society, Kushmeder said. They could be considered a good example of a bad example, she said.

According to Kushmeder, people also need to look at the body of work that Dr. Seuss produced, and how many children learned to read because of books, such as "The Cat in the Hat" and "Green Eggs and Ham" — which were first published in the 1950s and 60s. The books used simple word patterns and rhyming sounds, which children not only enjoyed, but memorized, she said.

"The Cat in the Hat", for instance, used 236 words over and over, understanding children's reading and literacy development, Kushmeder said.

"How many children found fun in reading?" she asked, contrasting the Cat's mischievous ways with "See spot run," readers.

Asked about the company's decision, Stacie Cromyak, a third grade teacher at John S. Clarke Elementary Center in Pottsville, said she doesn't think children read into the books the same way adults do. She also noted that "The Sneetches" is designed to promote diversity and being oneself.

"His whole reason for writing is for kids to read as early learners and to use word families," she said. "They see the rhymes, goofy characters and eccentric illustrations."

Celebrating Read Across America

To celebrate the annual observance of Read Across America week, John S. Clarke Elementary Center third graders are hearing Dr. Seuss stories read to them from, literally, across the country.

"I thought about my friends and family that reside in not only Pennsylvania, but other states as well, and realized that with a little planning, we just might be able to 'Read Across America,'" said Cromyak, who has taught in the district for 22 years.

On Tuesday morning, 19 students in her class and six learning virtually heard her friend, Kimbery Matsko, of Madison, Wisconsin, read "The Cat in the Hat" through Zoom, with the video projected on a smartboard. A few children chuckled as she read and the students thanked her when she finished her 15-minute reading.

Cromyak then assigned the students to write about a time they made mischief, like the main character in the titular Dr. Seuss book does. As an example, she told them about the time her son spread toothpaste all over the bathroom.

She said she came up with the idea to invite people from around the country to share stories as a way to bring in guest readers during the pandemic. Last year, she had several guests come and read to the class.

She kicked off the week by reading "The Sneetches" and asked students to complete a writing about what they like best about themselves, and to determine the amount of money the main character, Sylvester McMonkey McBean, made from the fictional creatures.

Others scheduled to read this week are Cromyak's sister-in-law Sara Cromyak, who will read "Wacky Wednesday" from Seattle, Washington; her son, Nathan Cromyak, and his girlfriend, Aslynn Herring, both in the Air Force, who will read "What Pet Should I Get" from Kirtland Air Force Base in Albuquerque, New Mexico; and Cromyak's friend Leah Hoak, of Pine Grove, who will read "The Lorax" and lead the students in a planting activity.

Read Across America encourages not only reading but also dressing up for themes that coincide with Dr. Seuss's books. That includes "Oh, the Places You'll Go," where students wear either a shirt with their favorite place to vacation or dress up as someone in an occupation they may want to pursue, such as a police officer; and "Fox in Socks," where students can wear crazy socks. On Tuesday, which was the author's birthday, students could dress in different patterns.

The National Education Association has been coordinating Read Across America since 1998. It coincides with Seuss' March 2 birthday.

Acting Principal Michael Maley said the goal for the week is to "get students excited about reading and to celebrate literacy.

"We always want to create opportunities for our students to get lost in a good book," he said.

Contact the writer: clee@republicanherald.com; 570-628-6028; @Cleespot on Twitter