Green eggs and ham, cats in hats

Sun Staff

Gov. Parris N. Glendening stripped off his suit jacket and sat cross-legged on the floor of an Annapolis restaurant Friday morning, surrounded by 33 first-graders in matching tall, red-and-white striped hats - a la "The Cat in the Hat."

"When I was growing up, I loved reading," he told the youngsters from Patti Sapp's class at Piney Orchard Elementary School in Odenton. "I didn't even have a television set when I was growing up, so I used to read all the time, and I used to read to my son all the time."

Glendening was one of estimated thousands of grown-ups in Maryland reading to children Friday, the National Education Association's fourth annual Read Across America Day. It also was the 97th anniversary of the birth of children's author Theodor Geisel - better known as Dr. Seuss.

The nationwide celebration of reading was expected to involve 30 million adults and children, and included celebrity readers and guessing games, parades and pajama parties, book donations and pep rallies.

"It gets bigger and bigger every year," said Debra Williams-Garner, state coordinator for "Read Across America" and a spokeswoman for the Maryland State Teachers Association, an NEA affiliate.

In Annapolis, at Copeland's restaurant, Glendening was the guest of honor - although a man in a Cat in the Hat costume got as many waves and smiles from the kids. The morning began with a meal of green eggs and ham, a nod to the title of the Dr. Seuss book that the governor read to the children.

The consensus at Courtney Berry's table? "I do not like green eggs and ham."

"I like ham a lot," the 6-year-old giggled. "But I never saw green eggs before."

She's read about them, though. About nine months ago, "Green Eggs and Ham" was the first book she read on her own, from start to finish.

Her mother, Sandi Berry, recalled that day: "Oh, my God, she can really read that book," she remembered exclaiming. "I was calling everyone on the phone, saying, 'She read "Green Eggs and Ham" and she's five years old.' We were taking this book everywhere so they'd believe me," she said.

At Howard County's Mount View Middle School in Marriottsville, green eggs and ham sat alongside fried chicken and french fries as an option in the cafeteria line. The dish went over a little better with these kids, but it was not a roaring success. "It looks nasty," said seventh-grader Danyell Clark.

Angelo Kourdoglou, 12, was the center of attention at his lunch table as he ate the famous meal, sandwiching the eggs and ham between bagel slices.

"It tastes like regular eggs and ham," the sixth-grader said. "But it looks better. This is the way it should be. But our moms would never cook this stuff."

Some pupils made bookmarks, with the day's theme in mind, for Mount View's sister school, Baltimore's Mount Washington Elementary. And several parents visited during the day to read to pupils over the school's closed-circuit television.

"I'm supposed to be at work, but it's a family business, and my husband said this was more important," said Joya Fields, who read a chapter of Richard Peck's "A Year Down Yonder" to more than 224 sixth-graders, including her son, J. T. (who allowed his mother to read only if she promised not to do anything that might embarrass him).

In Baltimore County, McCormick Elementary School in Rosedale welcomed Twig C. George, a Cockeysville woman who has written three books about animals. She has entered the family business: her mother, Jean Craighead George, has written more than 100 children's books.

Fifth-grader Amy Zimmerman, 10, asked Twig George about a book her mother wrote called "The Cry of the Crow: A Novel." She wanted to know whether it was based on a true story. It was, George said.

George said a crow had lived with her family at their house in New York state. It used to walk with her and her two brothers to the bus stop. When they boarded the bus, the crow flew home and tapped on the kitchen window to let their mother know that her children had made it safety to the bus.

"Other mothers had to go and check, but my mother had the crow," George said, laughing.

In Baltimore, Sun publisher Michael E. Waller and 11 other Baltimore executives joined pupils at Federal Hill Elementary in a pep rally to promote reading, and later read to them in their classrooms.

Waller challenged the youngsters to become Sun reporters for the day and ask questions of the executives who would read to them. "Asking is a great thing to do to help you succeed in life," he told the children.

Baltimore City schools chief Carmen V. Russo also addressed the crowd and encouraged pupils to "keep reading all those books." Russo said time did not permit her to read to pupils Friday morning.

Some of the guest readers at Federal Hill Elementary Friday were Jim Brinkley, president and chief operating officer for Legg Mason; Cobber Eccles, partner at Struever Bros., Eccles & Rouse; Bill Fine, president and general manager of WBAL-TV; and Katherine Miller, vice president of marketing at Sun Trust Bank.

Another team of guest readers, led by Bill Roberts, president of Verizon-Maryland, was slated to read at City Springs Elementary in Baltimore. Among them were Robert C. Embry Jr., head of the Abell Foundation; Peter M. Martin, chairman and chief executive officer of Provident Bankshares Corp.; Walter D. "Wally" Pinkard, president and CEO of Colliers Pinkard; and Barbara Gehrig, vice president of Comcast Corp.

At Charles Carroll Elementary, 10 miles north of Westminster in Carroll County, pajama-clad pupils scurried to their classrooms at the end of the day with an intensity usually reserved for recess.

They were going to read.

After a day of popcorn parties and photos with the Cat in the Hat and counting red fish and blue fish, the school settled in for 15 minutes of book time.

In Miki Fitzgerald's fourth-grade class, two boys snuggled into a pair of beanbag chairs in the coat closet. Chairs creaked. A computer at the back of the room hummed quietly. But for 15 minutes, the noisiest noise was the rustle of turning pages.

"It's great," said Glen Banks, a 10-year-old who was in the fifth chapter of "Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban." "It's really quiet, and you get so glued to a book that you don't remember what's happening sometimes."

For Jane Kacmarski, the school's language arts specialist, Friday was a celebration of the simple pleasure of reading.

"Sometimes, with all the state mandates and assessments we have, teachers become very driven for their children to perform well on these tests," she said. "It's nice to show children that you can read just to enjoy it and not as a means to an end. It builds that lifelong habit."

Sun staff writers Lynn Anderson, Allison Klein, Jennifer McMenamin and Tanika White contributed to this article.

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