Uma Thurman and Jake T. Austin Join NEA to Celebrate 2013 Read Across America Day

Hundreds of New York City school children filed into the New York Public Library on Friday morning to celebrate Dr. Seuss’s birthday and to kick off Read Across America Day, the nation’s largest reading celebration with more than 45 million participating around the country to highlight the importance of developing a love for reading at an early age.

Jake T. Austin, Uma Thurman, and NEA President Dennis Van Roekel at Friday's Read Across America Day event at the New York City Public Library.

First grader Shamar was especially excited to meet the Cat in the Hat and to listen to the celebrity readings. “It’s important to read and to be read to because it makes you smarter,” he said.

And on a sunny day in Manhattan more than 250 public school children like Shamar grew a little bit smarter after Academy Award-nominated actress Uma Thurman and Jake T. Austin, star of the Emmy-winning “Wizards of Waverly Place” and ABC Family’s “The Fosters” read two Seuss classics – That Cat in the Hat and Green Eggs and Ham.

“As a mother of three, with one now a teenager, I’ve seen the benefits of reading to and with my children throughout the span of childhood,” said Thurman, who read The Cat in the Hat. “Reading has helped develop my children and my family. Spending that time together means so much.”

Jake T. Austin explained how reading helps spark imaginations, which he said is one of the best parts about being an actor.

“Reading enables us to explore our imaginations,” he said. “As an actor, I get to be different characters and experience different worlds. I want children to be able to do the same through a good book.”

The children gathered in the New York Public Library and sat together in a sea of tall red and white striped hats as NEA President Dennis Van Roekel announced a new the partnership between NEA and Renaissance Dental.

“This Read Across America Day we want students to sink their teeth into a good book,” Van Roekel said. “When students are absent from class due to oral health problems, they’re missing out on critical instruction time. Everyone from Horton to Grinch can benefit from developing good oral health and reading habits.”

Every time Van Roekel said the word “read,” the kids cheered loudly.

“I really like the reaction I get when I say the word “read”!” he said.  To which the kids immediately responded with a roar of whoops and cheers and applause.

Uma Thurman reads to schoolchildren at the New York Public Library during the 2013 Read Across America Day event on March 1.

The kids also learned a new equation that’s easy to remember and will make a big impact on their lives:  2 x 2 + 20. That means, brush your teeth twice a day for two minutes, plus read for 20 minutes a day.  To reinforce the message, the kids each got a goodie bag with a toothbrush, a counter to measure the minutes for brushing, a book – The Cat in The Hat, of course – as well as healthy snacks and a bottle of water.

One of the students who got a goodie bag was Rokhaya, a first grader at PS 154. She was happy about the bag, but said the most exciting part was when Thing 1 and Thing 2 came over to say hello as they made the rounds through the crowd of children.

“That was really cool to meet them,” she said. “They told me to read because it would make me smarter, and that’s what I’m going to do!”

Thing 1 was played by Victoria Formica, a junior at Quinnipiac University in Hamden, CT, and President of the Quinnipiac Future Teachers Organization (QFTO), CEA Student Program.

“This day was fabulous because it makes children excited about reading and learning,” she said.

Thing 2, played by Marie Schussler, a senior at Quinnipiac University, couldn’t agree more. “Read Across America Day encourages children to enjoy reading and learning through entertainment,” said Schussler, who is the Vice President of the QFTO CEA Student Program. “It helps them grow as individuals and as a community.”

Read Across America is an award-winning literacy program founded by NEA in 1997 through a partnership with Dr. Seuss Enterprises, L.P., and Random House. NEA’s Read Across America Day is celebrated every year on or around the birthday of Dr. Suess, the beloved children’s author.

Video: Lights, Camera, Read! NEA’s Read Across America Day in NYC