WILKES-BARRE — If the idea was to encourage kindergarten students at Dodson Elementary to read more, Bill Jones succeeded before he even cracked open his copy of “Zack’s Alligator” on Thursday.
“How many of you want to be a good reader?” the United Way of Wyoming Valley president asked the class eagerly gathered at his feet for an event marking national Read Across America Day.
“I’m already a good reader!” one youngster shouted, prompting a rapid escalation of one-upmanship.
“I only know how to read one book.”
“I can read two books.”
“I can read 100 books!”
Jones came to the school dressed in pull-over shirt and a striped Cat in the Hat chapeau to combine the United Way’s “Real Men Read” program with the National Education Association’s Read Across America Day.
Real Men Read connects volunteer “MENtors” with pre-school and kindergarten classes to encourage reading and learning, with a male role model doing the encouraging.
Read Across America, set up by the nation’s largest teachers union, is held on the birthday of Theodore Geisel, much better known as children’s author Dr. Seuss, imagineer of famous rhyming characters like the Cat in the Hat, the Grinch, Horton, the Who-hearing elephant, and the eco-friendly Lorax.
The mash-up of the two programs worked, with the students avidly responding to many comments and questions from Jones as he read the book about a boy who gets a key chain with an alligator on it that grows big as life when put in enough water.
“Holy Golly!” one girl squealed as Jones showed the page of Bridget, the gator, getting too big for the bathtub.
“How many of you like to splash when you’re in the tub?” Jones asked.
“I have towels all around on the floor!” one girl beamed.
When Bridget wolfed down the family’s meatloaf and Jones asked what alligators like to eat, one girl did not hesitate to go a little dark. “They do eat people!” she pointed out.
Jones read the part where Bridget talks about her diet in the Florida everglades: “snakes, fish and slugs.”
That last one elicited a collective “Eeeeww!” from the class, followed by another bit of bragging. “My dad has a lot of snakes at home!”
Slugs might not be so bad, Jones suggested. “They probably have a lot of protein.”
Bridget wrestled with a garden hose, gulped from a fountain, found she was long enough to ride a see-saw solo, and scoffed when a policeman suggested a leash. At the end of the day, the alligator shrunk back to key chain size, affording no proof to Zack’s parents of his adventures with a giant reptile — well, except for the curious disappearance of meatloaf from the fridge.
As copies of the book were passed out, the students exchanged ideas for pets.
“I’d like a baby tiger,” Amanda Cardy said, “but when it grows up, it will be good and won’t eat people.”
Dustin Davis dreamt smaller, but no less exotic, evoking a rodent native to the Andes mountains in South America.
“I want a pet chinchilla!”