Classic revolutionized reading, turns 50

KAPA‘A — How many librarians share the same birthday as Dr. Seuss?

Students at Kapa‘a Elementary School were thrilled to be able to sing “Happy Birthday,” not only to the author of “The Cat in the Hat,” but their own librarian, Linda Gonsalves.

At 9:36 a.m., the entire student body was already collected in the school courtyard, and following the round of song, opened books and followed along as Dora Hong, the school’s principal, started reading “The Cat in the Hat.”

This coincided with the Mainland students’ taking part in Project 236, celebrating the 50th anniversary of “The Cat in the Hat,” one of the titles penned by Dr. Seuss.

The nationwide read took place at 2:36 p.m. Eastern Standard Time.

“Seuss changed the way reading is taught,” said Richard Edgeworth, Kapa‘a El’s vice principal. “He used rhyming and created a reading atmosphere that appealed to people learning to read.”

Gonsalves, in a school memo to teacher, pointed out that Dr. Seuss used only 236 different words to write “The Cat in the Hat.”

The schoolwide reading of the title coincided with the reading of the Dr. Seuss title by millions of other students and educators across the nation.

Edgeworth said the books the students carried, many toting “The Cat in the Hat,” was their show of support for literacy and reading.

“We tried to get as many copies of ‘The Cat in the Hat’ as we could find,” Gonsalves said. “But for those who couldn’t get a copy, they were welcome to bring along a book to demonstrate their support for reading.”

Hong, following her reading, pulled students who had gone all-out to celebrate Seuss’s birthday and formed an impromptu parade in the courtyard so all the students and teachers could appreciate the extra touch.

“At first we were going to have a guest reader,” Hong said. “But Mrs. Gonsalves said I could do it so I had to go find the costume.”

“The Cat in the Hat” was born in the mid-1950s when many Americans were asking themselves, “Why can’t Johnny read?”

John Hersey, a Pulitzer Prize-winning author, maintained in a Life magazine that American children couldn’t read because they could not compete with cartoons, comics and other more fun and interesting stimuli.

That article led to a challenge to Theodor Geisel — Dr. Seuss — to write a story for first-graders.

“The Cat in the Hat” was born, using only 236 words. In 1957, Random House published the first copies of the tale and those 236 words revolutionized the way children learned to read.

• Dennis Fujimoto, photographer and staff writer, can be reached at 245-3681 (ext. 253) or dfujimoto@kauaipubco.com

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