The first Read Across America was held on March 2nd in 1998 and was the National Education Foundation’s brainchild. They landed on March 2nd because it is the birthday of Dr. Seuss. So, for many years it has been branded as Dr. Seuss Day. Many schools across the states celebrate in pajamas, gathering in the gym to read with their classes, administrators dressing as Thing #1 and Thing #2, and preschool teachers whipping up their best version of green eggs and ham that Pinterest can give them.
There is just one problem. It’s not with a cat in a hat, ham that Sam does not like, or even dogs going up or dogs going down. It’s with us – educators, parents, administrators.
In the veil of whiteness that has clouded the educational community since the dawn of time, we have made the norm be Sam’s, Sally’s, Martha May Who’s, porcelain-skinned girls with bows, homes on streets filled with a mommy and daddy or a town where everyone celebrates the same holidays, and where stereotyped characters are prevalent and allowed to be ignored.
In the last few years, our schools and communities have done an incredible job seeing this major defect, and it is no longer considered Dr. Seuss Day. But let’s do better for our Black and brown babies. Let’s do better for our future presidents, teachers, musicians, and potential authors. Let’s actually read about America – about the amazing places and people that inhabit it. Let’s celebrate the work of actual model authors and illustrators that our children can believe they could one day be! Representation matters!
Let’s make Read Across America Day a day of learning about new places, people, diving into storylines, and embracing the magic that can only be found in a book.
Here are some ideas (and I mean some because really the possibilities are endless to make this day fun for any age)!
1. Older students? Dig into who Seuss was and the prevalence of stereotypes in his stories and racist adult prints. Learningforjustice.org has some great resources, but just to get you started, here are some numbers: “Of the 2,240 (identified) human characters [in Seuss stories], there are forty-five characters of color representing 2% of the total number of human characters. Of the 45 characters, 43 exhibited behaviors and appearances that align with harmful and stereotypical Orientalist tropes.” (Smith, Learning for Justice, 2019). Have students research best-selling books (Seuss or otherwise) and let them “pick it apart.”
2. THEMES! Who doesn’t love a good theme? Why not have multiple themes throughout the day? You could focus on places, people, or feelings. The nea.org has many resources focusing on inclusiveness, community building, stewardship, family history, and MORE. Have each student or your children pick a few topics they want to know more of, and then at a specific time of the day, let them “present” their information to the class or your family! This is actually one of THE BEST COLLECTIONS OF DIVERSE BOOKS you can find!
3. Dress-up day. Any day that I can put on a costume, talk in an accent, or pretend I’m someone else entirely is a good day. What a great day to “Dress as your favorite character” day! I have also heard that some middle and intermediate schools having “Dictionary Day” and dressing as your favorite word!
4. This may not be fully embraced by some educators, but why not offer writing time or bring/Zoom in an author to talk about how they plan and form their picture or chapter books. Let students work as illustrators while their partners plan a storyline and character development. Let THEM make the books they read!
5. Have author or illustrator studies! Choose authors from multiple backgrounds, cultures, cities, countries, socio-economic backgrounds, etc., for a student or a group of students to read and study for the day. Immerse them in a person or a popular writing team!
6. Did someone say glitter?! I think they did! Every good children’s picture book deserves a good craftivity (totally made that word up) to hang in the hallway! Grab your coffee and dive into the world of Pinterest for some amazing and totally affordable crafts to pair with your stories. A great website to check is also teacherspayteachers.com.
7. Literally read across America by reading books from authors who lived in each state! You can read fifty books from all fifty states!
8. Let’s not forgot the adults in the room! I personally have no idea how any of you find time to actually start and finish a book (for fun), but that is an entirely different article…..so why not try some easy reads – This collection of the greatest Young Adult Novels remind us all of many things we still hold on to and wish for even now.
We all have come such a long way from having a visit from The Lorax (Ok. That one can stay. He wants to save the trees….) or our construction crafts of red, white, and black hats to wear for the day. And thank goodness we have because there is so much more.
There is magic to be found in books. We have to let our kids find it!