Horton is a hit, and so is reading

Dr. Seuss is famous not just for putting together silly rhymes in ridiculous stories, but for the reason he did it.

Born Theodor Seuss Geisel in 1927, Dr. Seuss, as he eventually became known, created his silly rhymes largely because he wanted to help children find enjoyment in reading. He believed kids weren’t interested in reading because it was, well, boring.

I’m here to tell you, there is nothing boring about “Horton Hears a Who!”

That’s the Dr. Seuss book I got to read to second-grade classrooms at Jefferson Elementary on Warren’s west side recently. It was my second appearance as a “celebrity reader” at that particular building, all part of a much larger event coordinated by the United Way of Trumbull County in honor of Dr. Seuss’ birthday this month.

United Way of Trumbull County had engaged more than 100 volunteers to read Dr. Seuss books to students in kindergarten to second grade in more than 220 area classrooms.

Based on first-hand experience, I can attest that Dr. Seuss’ belief about silly rhyming words was right on the mark because the children with whom I visited in Mrs. Hammond’s and Miss Betts’ classrooms seemed genuinely thrilled to hear me read the crazy tale. (If you’re not familiar, it’s about the tiny village of Whoville that occupies a small speck of dust in the Jungle of Nool. When their town blows away, Horton, a friendly elephant, comes to the rescue.)

Now, it is my belief that reading is the single most important primary skill that educators are teaching our children, and the involvement of United Way of Trumbull County and all the volunteers who stepped up this month was a big plus in stressing the importance of literacy. It was all part of United Way of Trumbull County’s “Reading Great by 8 Literacy Initiative,” a program that provides reading support to children in grades K to 3.

Child advocacy groups, for years, have been stressing to parents and educators the importance of reading to children — even infants. Research now backs up that reading to a child very early and very often activates the part of the brain that allows him or her to understand the meaning of language.

Studies show that reading to young children stimulates parts of the brain associated with visual processing in a way that differs from just talking to them. That’s because reading aloud to children, starting when they’re infants, exposes them to more words than they might pick up from conversation alone. Studies also suggest that reading aloud provides them with a better picture of a variety of sentence structures and vocabulary.

Further, reading boosts the child’s ability to process information — even if it’s silly, non-sensical words like Dr. Seuss created. And it helps them to problem-solve. All these things held true despite parents’ income or education levels. Drastic differences were reported in studies based on how many times per week a parent read to his or her baby.

But it doesn’t end there. I believe that children who enjoyed listening to stories as babies ultimately learn to appreciate books and learning in general as they get older. My boys, who are bright, articulate and enjoy learning new things, are prime examples of that. My husband and I read to both of them daily from the day each was born.

I believe all children enjoy hearing stories read to them — even after they are old enough to read themselves. That, for certain, was true in Jefferson Elementary school this month.

I was happy to share with the classrooms where I read this month the important words from Dr. Seuss himself: “The more that you read, the more things you will know. The more that you learn, the more places you’ll go.”