Lunch period was in full swing at Hillcrest Elementary School in Catonsville on Nov. 11. Sandwiches from home were taken out of lunch boxes and food from the cafeteria was served on trays.
The cafetorium was filled with the steady noise of children talking and laughing.
But if one listened closely, the sound of a Dr. Seuss story could also be heard.
Sitting on the stage dressed in a colonial military uniform, Principal Doug Elmendorf read softly aloud, seemingly obliviously to the sounds and smells of food wafting around him.
"I don't know how he does it," said Carol Smith, a cafeteria volunteer. "He must have earplugs in. I couldn't do it. I like it quiet."
Elmendorf was taking part in the National Young Readers Week Principal Challenge for a chance to win 101 free copies of the latest book in Jeff Kinney's Diary of Wimpy Kid series, "Diary of a Wimpy Kid: Old School."
Since 1989, National Young Readers Week has been an annual event held during the second week of November to raise awareness of reading, according to its website. The event was co-founded by Pizza Hut and the Center for the Book in the Library of Congress.
While winning the books would be the icing on the cake, Elmendorf was really hoping to encourage the students at Hillcrest Elementary to take time to read every day, he said.
"If I can read for five hours straight, they can read for 15 minutes every night," Elmendorf said, as he paused to take a drink of water from a cooler at his side. "I want to encourage them to be readers every day."
A little before 9 a.m., Elmendorf took his seat and started to read. Every 10 minutes or so, different classes would come in quietly to listen to a story.
"I like Eric Carle," Elmendorf said, nodding at the selection of books at his side. "Older kids like this — "The Principal from the Black Lagoon."
During the students' lunch hour, Elmendorf encouraged the students to talk and enjoy themselves.
"I want them to have a chance to talk and get the wiggles out," Elmendorf said.
As it was Veterans Day, Elmendorf read some patriotic books and wore a Continental soldier costume, courtesy of a teacher at the school involved in reenactments, he said.
Two displays on the stage featured various armed forces and recognized two staff members — Michael Curry and Bret Gaitan — who are veterans. Blue pieces of paper taped on the walls held the names of family and friends of students who were veterans or in the military.
"It's pretty cool he's doing that, dressed up like that," said Gaitan. "It teaches the kids to appreciate any veterans in their lives I don't want the attention, at the same time, I'm very thankful.."
Karen Gordon, a second grade teacher, thought the event was a great way to encourage reading for the simple joy of it.
"I've already had three students come up to me and say, 'He loves to read,'" Gordon said. "It is a nice way for him to be with kids all day long."
This is the first year Hillcrest has participated in the principal challenge, Gordon said, that requires people to tweet photos of Elmendorf reading all day.
She admitted no one was really familiar with it until Elmendorf announced that he was going to take on the challenge.
Elmendorf had done the challenge a few years ago at another school. The 2015-2016 school year is his first as principal at Hillcrest.
"It's a great idea and a great opportunity for students ...to have a competition with other principals without being negative," Gordon said. "Even if we don't win, I feel like we still won."
Elmendorf plans to do the challenge next year, too, but will probably do something different.
"Some principals sit on a roof and read," Elmendorf said. "I'm not much of a cold weather person."
By sitting in the cafeteria and reading, Elmendorf said, he was able to read to everyone.
"Everybody should have heard me read if they were here today," Elmendorf said. "This actually worked out pretty well."