NEA Kicks Off Read Across America Day

The National Education Association launched its annual Read Across America campaign on Wednesday with a star-studded celebration of reading at the Library of Congress.

A proclamation by President Obama declared today Read Across America Day, NEA President Dennis Van Roekel told the event’s crowd of students decked in “Cat in the Hat” stovepipe hats.

“Today, there are 45 million people doing what we’re doing: wearing funny hats and reading!” he said.

Read Across America is NEA’s annual reading motivation program that invites students across the country to revel in reading on March 2nd, the birthday of Dr. Seuss, and continue “booking it” all year.

The launch event, held in the marbled Great Hall of the Library of Congress, was attended by dozens of elementary students from the District of Columbia, Maryland and Virginia. Seated before the front of a sea of bobbing red and white hats, Van Roekel and Librarian of Congress James Billington introduced special guests First Lady Michelle Obama and Secretary of Education Arne Duncan.

When Van Roekel announced President Obama’s proclamation, students cheered and tossed their hats up in the air.

Mrs. Obama told students that her family members are voracious readers.

“We call the president the Fact Person,” she said, explaining how much he learns from reading. “Do you want to be a Fact Person, too?”

She and Duncan read Green Eggs and Ham aloud, pausing to let students call out words with them, and Van Roekel, flanked by surprise visitors the Cat in the Hat and Things 1 and 2, led participants in a pledge of lifelong reading.

Students were then ushered to red-carpeted reading stations, to hear stories read by celebrity VIP readers, including actresses Jessica Alba and Bridget Moynahan, NFL wide receiver Donald Driver, Top Chef host Padma Lakshmi, MSNBC correspondent Norah O’Donnell and NBC correspondent Luke Russert.

Students gathered in tight semicircles, listening intently to The Hungry Caterpillar, The Cat in the Hat and more. Some scooted next to their reader so they could mouth the words along with them.

When Carla Hall, former Top Chef contestant, pulled out One Fish, Two Fish, Red Fish, Blue Fish, one boy cried out, “I read that book!”

“You did!?” she said, grinning. “I love that!” She read so emphatically, crowing and flying out of her seat for the last line, that her group was in stitches.

Once Hall finished the story, she asked students what their favorite books were – every hand shot up as students bounced to call out their picks.

In the coming months, Read Across America will provide more opportunities for students like these to join the fun. The Cat-a-Van will bring its Suess-tastic celebration to several of NEA’s Priority Schools in North Carolina and Iowa. Thanks to a partnership with United Through Reading, deployed service members will make video recordings of The Cat in the Hat to send home to their loved ones.