Right on Target

Josh is eight years old in third grade in his public school here in fabulous New York City. He thinks I look like a desperate housewife.

I don’t watch the show, so I have no idea if that’s a compliment or not. But he came to the New York Public Library’s kick-off event for NEA’s Read Across America sponsored by our faithful partner, Target, and he was told he was going to see movie stars.

NEA's Read Across America Launch Event at the New York Public Library (AP)

He met Mark Ruffalo (an actor up for an Academy Award and an ardent activist for clean water who passionately read The Lorax to Josh and about 200 of his school mates). He met Uma Thurman, an actor who faithfully reads her children to sleep.

He met rap artists and singers and authors who have large followings of fans. So when he saw me, he ran up to me and said with eyes shining, “I know I’ve seen you on TV! What’s your show?”

I said, “If you guess right, I’ll tell you.”

He started the guessing game that covered most of the line up on major networks. I just didn’t have the heart to tell him that my “show” was this blog.

And, of course, my regular gig:  The National Education Association.

In the midst of all the upheaval of attacks on public education and our union and teachers and the army of support professionals from school librarians to school bus drivers, we still cultivate an oasis of learning and fun that no crisis will stop.

Actor Uma Thurman helps celebrate reading during NEA's Read Across America at the New York Public Library, Thursday, Feb. 24, 2011 in New York. (Jason DeCrow/AP Images for Target)

March 2nd is still Dr. Seuss’s birthday and on the day NEA celebrates our Read Across America with millions of school children, toddlers, college students, Grandparents, Moms, Dads and anyone who will stop for a blessed moment to read with a child.

Target put together a magnificent celebration here in the Big Apple. They fed kids Green Eggs and Ham (on bagels) and painted their faces in Seussian styles and played reading quiz shows and took photos with the Target Dog (a pretty pampered pooch) and the Big People read to the Little People. That’s the Hokey Pokey part. Big People reading to Little People. That’s What It’s All About.

I told my neighbor that the good folks at the NEA created Read Across America as a celebration of reading; as a time when adults would read with a child. And he said, “That sounds cute, but I’m not sure how that teaches a child to read.”

I had to explain something that’s hard to explain. Read Across America isn’t about a phonics program or whole language or vocabulary building or any of the reading lessons that I’ve taught as a teacher. It’s about magic. It’s about cuddling with a child on your lap and turning the page and pointing to the pictures and giggling at funny words.

A child who has been read to is a child who is more open to learning how to read. The adult has built a bridge to the book on the other end and pointed the way. The adult has planted a seed in the child’s head: Look at this magical thing I can do. Don’t you want to learn this magic?

There is a warm thing, a soft thing that happens between the Little Person and the Big Person when they open a book together. The phonics will come. But first, the magic.

Josh was looking for movie stars. But he stopped his guessing game with me when the Cat in the Hat swaggered in. Josh’s jaw dropped and he said, “That’s my favorite book! That’s the Cat in the Hat!” And off he went to shake hands with the star of the show.

Target and Random House will donate thousands and thousands of books to Josh’s school and hundreds of schools like his to celebrate with NEA.

This Saturday from 9 AM to 11 AM parents can bring their children to Target stores and find special reading corners where store folks will read to children and celebrate with a little book party. NEA has hundreds of happy partners in this celebration. We need them all. We thank them all. We love them all.

With all the cold, hard things that are going on in the world, it’s worth taking a day to remind us that some things don’t take an Act of Congress.

Some things just take a Big Person willing to take the time to make some very big magic. Be the magic. Be the star to a Little Person you know.

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