ROCKVILLE – Rep. Connie Morella, R-Bethesda, politely set aside the child’s biography of George W. Bush that someone had set out for her to read aloud Friday at Meadow Hall Elementary School.
A teacher subtly slid the Bush book back out in front of the Republican congresswoman, who was at the school for a combined “Read Across America” and career day.
But Morella went straight for Dr. Seuss.
“This gives them inspiration that they can do anything they want to do,” she said, smiling and clutching a brightly colored copy of Seuss’s “Oh, The Places You’ll Go!”
“They had books about Bush, too, but I didn’t think it’d be as interesting — you know, for the kids,” she said.
But the slight to Bush was a minor one, given that the National Education Association scheduled “Read Across America” on the 98th anniversary of Dr. Seuss’s birth this year.
Seuss was also a hit with other Maryland politicians, who fanned out across the state Friday to read to their youngest constituents.
Gov. Parris Glendening had an all-Seuss day, starting with an authentic “Green Eggs and Ham” breakfast for kids at the Red Robin Restaurant in Annapolis, followed by readings at Beechfield Elementary School in Baltimore and Broad Acres Elementary School in Silver Spring.
Rep. Elijah Cummings, D-Baltimore, read stories with Baltimore Mayor Martin O’Malley to elementary students at the Museum of Industry, while Rep. Benjamin Cardin, D-Baltimore, read to fourth-graders at Linthicum Elementary School.
Like Morella, Sen. Paul Sarbanes, D-Md., read “Oh, The Places You’ll Go!” to students at Beechfield Elementary School because “it sends the message you can be all you want to be . . . thinking big and fulfilling your dreams,” his spokesman said.
At Meadow Hall Elementary, students and teachers had decked out the entire building for the day in red, white and black — signature colors of the Cat-In- The-Hat, Seuss’s great literary icon.
Morella herself wore red and black to the school, which her granddaughter Melissa Morella attends. But since it was also career day, many of the students who gathered to hear her read had dressed up as astronauts, gymnasts, chefs, pilots, firefighters and police.
Seated in a wooden rocking chair with children gathered around on the floor, Morella read to two audiences, grouped by age:
“You have brains in your head.
“You have brains in your shoes.
“You can steer yourself any direction you choose.”
The story neatly integrated the day’s themes of career aspirations, literacy and Seuss-style merriment. Written in language simple enough for children, “Oh, The Places You’ll Go!” is Seuss’s late-career reflection on life’s many ups and downs, and is a common gift for college graduates.
Morella’s youngest listeners oohed and wowed happily at the kaleidoscopic illustrations, though they had a little trouble following the book’s pithy messages.
“I think it’s about going off somewhere,” said Jernesha, 7, who liked the congresswoman’s storytelling but wasn’t sure who Morella actually was.
“I, uh, think it’s trying to say that when you do you homework, you build up so then you get to go play,” said Ryan, 7.
He liked the book but said he prefers “Green Eggs and Ham” because “it always makes me hungry.” He liked Morella, too, but was confused about what her job was. “That’s something I have to learn now.”
The story resonated more strongly with Morella’s older listeners, the third- to fifth-graders, most of whom had heard the story before.
“You can go wherever you want, and do whatever you want to, but you have to make it happen,” a girl in the crowd told Morella. Other children nodded in agreement, answering a loud “no!” when asked if achieving their dreams will be easy.
After reading, Morella gave the older group a brief talk about what a congresswoman’s job is like (“busy!”) and how ideas are transformed into laws in Washington. The children responded by peppering her with questions on a range of topics including women’s rights in Afghanistan and racial equality in South Africa.
“I was impressed,” Morella said. “I thought they were very intelligent. These kids know about a lot more than we think they do.”
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