Thursday, October 23, 2008

The Cat in the Hat Goes to Jamaica

Dr. Seuss is a close, personal friend of mine—I learned how to read on Hop on Pop. And, to this day, I can recite long stanzas of the Cat In The Hat (my father must be recognized at this time for his patience in reading it to me countless times). I give Seuss books as gifts, The Lorax made me switch to reusable grocery bags, and Seussical the Musical is on my iPod.

The dude has gotten me into trouble, though. In July, I was standing at the American Airlines baggage counter on my way to Jamaica when I was told that my bag was 8 pounds over the limit. The woman called me honey and dear and told me to take my time rearranging everything.

She was a very kind woman, but I was not amused. There I was, at six in the morning, nervous about the next year of my life and stressed after a tearful goodbye with my beloved parents, and I had to repack my bags? Feeling like a fool, I ripped open my massive suitcase in the middle of Logan Airport and found the 8-pound offender: A Baker’s Dozen of Seuss. I had to laugh at my own stupidity—I had thrown the book in during the final frenzy of packing. However, I found myself strangely relieved by the sight of the volume, and quickly transferred it to my carry-on. It was comforting to know that Dr. Seuss would be accompanying me on this journey.

Three months have passed since that overwhelming encounter with my old friend Seuss, and I am no less happy today than I was on July 18th when the Cat in the Hat smiled up from the book’s jacket. As an international Passionist volunteer, my tasks are varied, but a fixture in my routine has been tutoring struggling readers in the village school.

Illiteracy is in alarming abundance in Jamaica, and many of the schoolchildren I work with are far below American expectations of reading levels. At Mount Friendship School, I take small groups of struggling readers out of class and we work on different words. I never envisioned myself a resource teacher—in the States, I often felt inept when working with struggling readers. Here, though, we are encouraged to meet needs as they arise, so that’s what I’m doing. Thank goodness I’ve got an expert to help me—Dr. Seuss hasn’t let me down.

During the hour or so that I have a group of children, we will practice letters and sounds. We work on the most basic words, and they are slowly making progress. I use everything from worksheets I make out by hand to flashcards. But always, I conclude the session with a story from my Baker's Dozen of Seuss. The kids can certainly understand being stuck inside during a rainy day...I'm sure they wished the Cat in the Hat would visit them. They delight in the musical rhythm of the stories and they like to pick out the words they know. "Miss," one of my kids cried when he saw Thing One and Thing Two race accross the page, "Dem tings a mashup dem house!"

And that's exactly right.

My Baker’s Dozen of Seuss might have caused some anxiety at the ticket counter on that fateful day in July, but I am still relieved that I brought it along for the ride.