The places you’ll go (and the things you’ll read!)

Thanks to Dr. Seuss for these opening lines from “Oh, The Places You’ll Go.”

”Congratulations! Today is your day.

You’re off to great places! You’re off and away!”

The last book published during the author’s lifetime, it is recommended reading for this year’s Read Across America, sponsored by the National Education Association.

Now in its 18th year, this annual celebration of reading takes places today, the birthday of Theodore Geisel, the creator of Dr. Seuss and those delightful stories with their weirdly wonderful menagerie of characters.

The goal of Read Across America is to bring excitement for the printed word to readers of all ages. Programs and contests involve students, parents, grandparents, actors, athletes, governors, mayors, CEOs and everyone in between.

In schools, teachers have been known to dye their hair pink or green to encourage pupils to reach a reading goal. Principals allow themselves to be duct-taped to walls if students read enough books. How the kids must laugh, and how wonderful it is that the fun is all about reading, the one skill basic to every other skill.

The lucky ones among us can’t remember not knowing how to read. We have been happily reading along as far back as we can remember.

If we try hard enough, maybe we can recall the first book we ever saw. Maybe it was a book someone read to us. Forget video games and electronic tablets; reading to children is still the best way to get them hooked on books.

My mother read to us as kids. One of the first books I remember was a Little Golden Book. The story was “The Pokey Little Puppy” by Janette Sebring Lowery.

The opening lines are: “Five little puppies dug a hole under the fence and went for a walk in the wide, wide world.” It is not hard to see how we little listeners could relate to those young pups who, like us, were eager to see what was beyond their own backyard.

Of course, I became well acquainted with books when I entered school. Who could ever forget Dick and Jane? The main characters, along with baby Sally, Spot the dog, and Puff the kitten, all became good friends to me. The very first story in the first book is entitled “See it Go.” It begins with one word: “Look.” Not a bad word with which to begin a lifetime of reading.

Another book I encountered in my early years was introduced to my first-grade class by our teacher, Miss Perigo. She read a part of a chapter each morning and had a special knack for putting the book down just at a high moment of suspense. Attendance in her class must have been above average, since every kid wanted to come to school the next day to hear what happened next.

Miss Perigo’s book was “Bears of Blue River” by Shelbyville author Charles Major. Through the writer’s words, we 6-year-olds found ourselves in the deep, thick forest of early Indiana, living the adventures of a boy named Balser, who lived in a two-room cabin with his parents, a younger brother and a sister.

I doubt if any kid in the first grade that year will ever forget the time Balser got lost in the dark woods and met up with a growling one-eared bear.

This book, first published in 1901, has become a classic which retains the power to enthrall even kids of the Facebook generation. It has not been forgotten, especially in Shelby County. On the square in Shelbyville is a statue of a boy holding a bear cub in each hand. That’s Balser from “Bears of Blue River.”

The printed word is a gift to mankind. “Read Across America” reminds us of that. Why not begin today, with a book in your hand? It is your passport to the world.

Oh, the places you’ll go.