March 2, 2013 is Read Across America Day – a day set aside to encourage every person in America to read or be read to for fun. This annual nationwide observance coincides with the birthday of Dr. Seuss, the American writer best known for creating children’s books and inspiring the love of reading in four generations of kids. Originally created as a one-day event to celebrate the joy of reading, Read Across America, sponsored by NEA and Dr. Seuss Enterprises, L.P., has grown into a nationwide initiative that promotes reading every day. More than 45 Million people young and old participate annually in the literacy program, now in its 16th year.
The beloved Doc died in 1991, six years before the first Read Across America Day, and while he would most likely have been tickled with the event, the state of reading in America may have him rolling over in his grave.
A 2007 report by the National Endowment of the Arts (NEA), shows reading literacy has dropped since Seuss was alive. To Read or Not To Read: A Question of National Consequence gathered statistics from more than 40 studies on the reading skills and habits of Americans of all ages. The report unveiled trends that Americans are reading less, reading less well, and graduating from school less prepared.
According to the official website of Dr. Seuss, a few weeks before his death, when asked if there was anything he might have left unsaid, Seuss replied, “Any message or slogan? Whenever things go a bit sour in a job I’m doing, I always tell myself, ‘You can do better than this.’ The best slogan I can think of to leave with the kids of the U.S.A. would be ‘We can…and we’ve got to…do better than this.”
Any one of the 44 books that Dr. Seuss wrote and illustrated would be a perfect pick for younger kids. Forty of them are written in rhyme. Rhyming forces the dissection of sounds and helps grow phonemic awareness, which is the ability to blend, unglue and manipulate sounds in a word. A 10-year Institute of Health study found that weakness in this area was the cause of 88% of all learning to read problems. Helping tots build that key cognitive skill now can help prevent problems when school starts, and keep them enjoying reading well into adulthood.
That love of reading as adults is another area of decline. According to the National Center for Education Statistics, the percentage of adults over the age of 24 who reported having read a play, poem, short story or novel during the past year decreased between 1982 and 2002 – to just 47%. Seriously? Less than half of us are reading for pleasure?
Let Read Across America Day be a challenge to all of us. Read a book. Any book. You can find the right one if you just take a look. As of August 5, 2010 Google Books reports there were 129,864,880 published books to choose from. Surely you can find one to tackle.
Still hesitant? To that, America’s favorite reading doctor would probably say, again:
“The more that you read, the more things you will know. The more that you learn, the more places you’ll go.” — Dr. Seuss (I Can Read with My Eyes Shut)