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Thoughts from Dr. Joe: Oh, the places books can take you!

It appeared as though another year would go by without having an opportunity to be one of the guest readers at the La Cañada Elementary School Read-In.

Carrie Martin, chair of this year’s program, had orchestrated quite the event and recruited readers from throughout the community. My buddies Charlie Kamar, Allen Simmons and Joe Radabaugh had been drafted by Ms. Martin; however, my phone never rang. So, I sat in Starbucks, editing my sequel and waiting for a mission.

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To commemorate the birthday of Dr. Seuss and celebrate the joy of reading, the National Educational Assn. established “Read Across America Day,” which is the largest celebration of literacy in America. The premise is to boost children’s enthusiasm for reading. The research is conclusive. Motivating children to read enhances achievement and creates successful lifelong readers. Children who read do better in school.

Throughout the week leading up to the event my wife, Kaitzer, a member of the school board, had assembled her collection of Dr. Seuss books. She was one of the chosen.

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I thought to myself, I’m always a bridesmaid and never a bride. Doesn’t Ms. Martin realize I’m capable of reading more than the back side of a cereal box?

“Kaitzer, you’re not gonna read Dr. Seuss again,” I said.

“Dr. Seuss’ imagery, metaphors and melodic literary cadence, not to mention his intricate story line, are timeless,” she said.

I scratched my head and thought, “What the heck is a melodic literary cadence?”

Well, it just so happened that Pasadena City College unexpectedly sent Kaitzer to a conference. I think it had something to do with world peace. Consequently, I would become her designated pinch-hitter at LCE.

I was assigned Lauren Schour’s fifth-grade class and Andrea Redecker’s sixth-graders. My first assignment was at 1:20 p.m. I arrived on campus at noon; I didn’t want to be late.

As our children, since grown, attended LCE, I felt like I was returning home. It was great to see Mandy Redfern, Pam Daniger and Deborah Pruden. Their caring, love and expertise influenced Sabine and Simone’s educational development.

I decided to read Steven Ambrose’s “Undaunted Courage,” the account of Lewis and Clark’s historic incursion into the interior of North America. Since the book is 521 pages, I opted to tell the story.

I was enthusiastically welcomed by the children and felt as though they were excited to find out what I would present. Their classroom was a haven of learning. Perhaps we need not look further than our schools to find the true National Treasure.

I gave each of the children a necklace of trade beads to wear during my account of the “Corps of Discovery’s journey.” The beads, circa 1810 to 1880, were metaphoric to the story. Trade beads were the currency of the Great Plains and the continent’s interior. Explorers such as Lewis and Clark used these beads to trade with the Native Americans.

I was impressed by the intuitiveness of the children. They had a sense of history and were keenly familiar with the genius of Thomas Jefferson in sending Lewis and Clark to find the “Northwest Passage.” I told them that reading is foundational to all knowledge and that books are a magic carpet where they can travel the world and live a thousand different lives.

I told them how Sacagawea saved the expedition twice and how she saved some of Lewis’ journals when they were washed overboard.

Merriweather Lewis writes, “The Indian woman to whom I ascribe equal fortitude and resolution, with any person on board at the time of the accident, caught and preserved most of the articles which were washed overboard.”

I hope one day that the students will understand the importance of metaphor in reading and that they will appreciate the teenage Shoshone girl, who carried her baby across the interior of North America as the embodiment of America — hope!

Maybe Dr. Seuss is timeless, “The more that you read, the more things you will know. The more you learn, the more places you’ll go.”

Joe Puglia is a practicing counselor, a retired professor of education and a former officer in the Marines. Reach him at doctorjoe@ymail.com. Visit his website at doctorjoe.us.

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