Novelist Gwendolen Gross is talking about how her children — 13 and 9 years old — are years past daily Dr. Seuss readings, when she suddenly breaks into "One Fish, Two Fish, Red Fish, Blue Fish."
"Look what we found in the park, in the dark.
We will take him home. We will call him Clark."
Repeated readings seared the words into her memory, and the story is still relevant to her today.
"That's still part of our family narrative," the Ridgewood resident says with a laugh before finishing that portion of the book: "Will our mother like this? We don't know."
No one, however old, is ever really removed from the world of Dr. Seuss, whose birthday is Friday. It is no coincidence that Friday is also the 15th annual Read Across America Day. The event, created by the National Education Association, is a day to celebrate reading. Most of the event's related activities happen in schools and libraries across the country.
At the same time, we celebrate the genius of Theodor Geisel, whose stories, penned as Dr. Seuss, are often the hook that reels in future readers. The characters, the rhymes, the narratives are intrinsic to childhood.
"I can't imagine my kids' childhood without it and I can't imagine my childhood without it," says Bergen County native Anna Napolitano, whose most recent novel "A Good Hard Look" comes out in paperback in June.
Napolitano's 2- and 4-year-old sons repeatedly ask for "The Cat in the Hat" and "The Cat in the Hat Comes Back." She, like Gross, remembers a particular love of "Green Eggs and Ham." As professional writers, they both see more than made up words and rhythmic prose in Dr. Seuss.
"To me, the silliness of his books is what pulls everybody in, but there's definite substance beneath the silliness," says Napolitano. "The poetry, and the structure of the poems that he puts together, is very disciplined. Then below that, he's trying to educate young children to literally read, but he's also trying to inform and promote his own worldview."
Think about the environmentalism of "The Lorax," the anti-consumerism of "The Grinch."
This year, the release of "The Lorax" movie adds some star power to the Read Across America Day. The actors who voiced the characters – Taylor Swift, Zac Efron, Betty White, Danny DeVito, Ed Helms and Rob Riggle – did an NEA promotional video.
"Join in the fun in your own special way," Swift says.
Fun is the key for the day.
"The spirit of Read Across America Day is perfect to me," says Napolitano. "It's about making reading silly and delightful and fun and something you share with your friends. All about getting across this love of reading that you can, and should, take through the rest of your life."
Gross, whose fourth novel "The Orphan Sister" was released over the summer, agrees the day reminds everyone that reading isn't just a school requirement.
"There's something very satisfying about reading just for reading," says Gross. "It's good to be reminded that there is that freedom. A lot of people go to school, then they graduate from college and they never read again because they had to read. They forget there was that time when [reading] was a friend and an escape and something you could talk to other people about without having to get a grade."
On Dr. Seuss' birthday, everyone should remember the fun – and importance – of reading. As he wrote best in "I Can Read With My Eyes Shut":
The more that you read,
the more things you will know.
The more that you learn,
the more places you'll go.