Ask Lemar Johnson for a list of his favorite books, and he'll include "Hop on Pop" and "The Berenstain Bears and the Double Dare."
But best of all is "Green Eggs and Ham" - the 5-year-old kindergartner at Rognel Heights Elementary/Middle School learned the story of Sam-I-Am practically by heart when he was 3. His father, Lance Johnson Sr., had an interactive computer program at home that recounted the Dr. Seuss classic - over and over.
"He played the CD-ROM constantly ... " said Johnson, 30. "He learned it well. He was reading along with the program."
Lemar is one of the success stories of the Baltimore school system, an avid young reader who goes through a book or two a day. During spring break this month, he had two things on his mind: "Playing games and reading."
Lemar's grandmother, Jacquiline Johnson, 55, said she couldn't believe it when her grandson recently picked up a copy of "Arthur's Chicken Pox," the tale of a bespectacled aardvark who contracts chicken pox a few days before he is supposed to go to the circus.
"He started reading, and I looked at him," she said. She was surprised to hear Lemar recognize "temperature" and "thermometer" - words too big, she thought, for a 5-year-old to understand.
She brought Lemar before the city school board last month to share the story of his success - which earned him an invitation from Patricia Morris Welch, board member and dean of the school of education at Morgan State University, to return as a "guest reader."
Lemar's grandmother credits his kindergarten teacher, Tina Wormley, with teaching him how to read and getting him hooked.
"Her whole persona says enthusiasm," said Jacquiline Johnson. "He believes he can read because she believes he can read, and that's the difference."
And read he can.
During a recent visit to the Enoch Pratt Free Library's Edmondson Avenue branch in West Baltimore, Lemar read "Hop on Pop" to his father in a quiet corner of the children's section. He read eloquently; only a few words tripped him up.
"Jump. Bump. He jumped a bump," Lemar said. "Fast. Past. He went past fast."
Lance Johnson, who works two jobs to support Lemar and his 10-year-old brother, Lance Jr., tries to take his boys to the library at least once a week. It's one of his ways of spending time with them.
Lemar always has had a knack for reading, his father said.
"'Daddy, how do you spell [this], Daddy, how do you spell [that]?' He was always asking me that," Mr. Johnson said.
Lemar's grandmother also attests to what she calls his "thirst for knowledge." She used to hear "Green Eggs and Ham" so often that she grew sick of it.
"Can you help me read this title?" Lemar asked during his recent visit to the library, holding out a "Rookie Reader" called "Messy Bessey."
"Can we sound it out?" his grandmother asked.
"M-m-m," said Lemar, trying the word "Mrs." before figuring it out: "Messy!"
"You go, boy," she replied.
"Bessey," he finished.
"That's good, 'Messy Bessey.'"
"He's comfortable in here," Jacquiline Johnson said of the library. "These children, they're comfortable in here."
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