Grab your books and tall striped hats: It's time to celebrate “Read Across America Day”

By Meagan Smith
A metal lunch box decorated with illustration of the Dr. Seuss story, "The Cat in the Hat"

This week, teachers, librarians, and students across America will be looking around their homes for tall, striped top hats and red ties. They will be searching for well-loved books—perhaps one about a cat who isn’t quite cut out to be a babysitter, or another about an elephant who saves a teeny tiny town.

2018 is the 20th year that schools and libraries will be decked out like Whoville in celebration of Read Across America Day, an event started on March 2, 1998, that aims to get children excited about reading, often through the books of author Theodor Geisel, known to children of all ages as Dr. Seuss.

The day is a part of the Read Across America youth literacy initiative created by the National Education Association in 1997. Most schools will celebrate on the school day closest to March 2, Dr. Seuss’s birthday. Other community centers, libraries, and museums may celebrate over the weekend.

One such celebration is in Dr. Seuss’s hometown of Springfield, Massachusetts. The Springfield Museums are a Smithsonian Affiliate, which means they belong to a network of museums that collaborate with the Smithsonian Institution. They are preparing for a record-breaking crowd of birthday revelers. Partygoers can create colorful crafts, participate in trivia, and explore the Springfield Museums’ The Amazing World of Dr. Seuss, which is the first and only museum dedicated to the beloved children’s author. Familiar faces like the Grinch, the Cat in the Hat, and Thing One and Thing Two will be on hand as families make their way through different reading activities.

Entrance to "The Amazing World of Dr. Seuss," featuring a large, whimsical arch
The Amazing World of Dr. Seuss, Springfield Museums

As our friends in Massachusetts prepare to order enough cakes to feed all the Sneetches, I’ve been looking around the collections here at the National Museum of American History for materials related to the life and legacy of Dr. Seuss. My first Seussical find is a 1930s Stanco Inc. booklet advertising Flit insect-repelling lotion.

Cover of yellow booklet shows an illustration of a man happily fishing. In the next image, he is frightened by a large group of insects.
Trade Catalog from Stanco Inc. Courtesy of Smithsonian Libraries

I was surprised to learn that, in addition to his career as a children’s author, Geisel worked as a commercial illustrator. Not only did Geisel work on the Flit campaign for almost 20 years, but he also created political cartoons for the New York newspaper PM and illustrated posters for the U.S. government during World War II. The subject matter may be different, but it’s hard to miss Geisel’s distinct style in this Flit pamphlet.

My next find is the perfect container for green eggs and ham. This adorable steel lunch box from the 1970s features some of Dr. Seuss’s most recognizable characters from The Cat in the Hat. On the lid of the lunch box, the cat juggles some household items while Thing One and Thing Two try to trip him with a length of string or rope.

Oh the places you’ll go and find Dr. Seuss! Whether it’s at the National Museum of American History, at your hometown museum, or on your own bookshelf, Theodor Geisel is never far away. His timeless stories and eye-catching illustrations have been encouraging children to read for decades. How will you celebrate this Read Across America Day?

Meagan Smith is the program assistant for the museum’s Department of Affiliations.