PRESIDIO OF MONTEREY, Calif. -- To anyone but a gleeful preschooler, the sight of a Soldier, especially a command sergeant major, in a stovepipe two-foot high green hat with white stripes would seem very unusual.

However the site was not only expected -- but celebrated outright -- when Command Sgt. Maj. Andrew J. Wynn, Presidio of Monterey Garrison command sergeant major, took a break from his schedule to read "The Cat in the Hat Comes Back" to children in observance of Read Across America at the Monterey Road Child Development Center March 10.

The nation's largest reading event, Read Across America, takes place each year during March. It is built around the March 2 birthday of popular children's author Dr. Seuss, otherwise known as Theodor Seuss Geisel.

In schools and other children's facilities across the nation, a variety of activities are held throughout March that honor Dr. Seuss and encourage children to read and caring adults to read to them.

The observance was launched in 1998 and sponsored each year by the National Education Association.

"The kids have a great time with it, of course, but more importantly we at the child development center focus on the Read Across America events in March to help local children and their families discover the lifelong joys of reading." said Presidio of Monterey Child Development Center Director Latoya Jackson.

Jackson was quick to add that according to NEA research and their website, studies continue to show the importance of reading to children: Children who are motivated and spend more time reading do better in school.

Throughout the week, Soldiers as well as civilians took time out to read at the CDC. Lela Casillo, chief of Community Child and Youth Services, who visited the CDC the same day as Wynn, took advantage of the sunny Monterey weather and moved her book readings outside into the playground where children crowded around to read the stories aloud with her.

"It's fun for the children; that's great. But what's gratifying is that at the same time they are having all this fun, they're building strong reading skills," said Casillo. "They learn so many new words and are really happy and proud when they get to the end of a long sentence without a mistake. That's probably why they like to read the books over and over again."

Casillo, who along with Wynn spent the greater part of the morning at the CDC, was alternately rewarded with peals of laughter and robust singing during their readings. "These kids love these stories. While I'm reading aloud, they love reciting the rhymes with me and commenting on the books illustrations, so it's a lot of fun for me too," Wynn said.

After a much lauded reading and several calls for encores, Wynn finally made his goodbyes and sent the children on their way with high-fives and encouragements. Turning to the last group before leaving, Wynn tipped his two-foot hat and called out "I can't stay, but you got it! You got to keep on readin' now, OK?"

TIPS FOR READING WITH CHILDREN

The following is from Adventures in Reading, Family Literacy Bags from Reading Rockets, at www.readingrockets.org.

-Take your time and talk about the story with your child. Ask your child questions.
Explore the pictures with your child.

-Read with expression. Change your voice or how fast you read to create excitement. Ham it up!
You don't need to read every word. Keeping your child interested is the goal.

Tips for reading nonfiction books with kids:

-Wonder out loud. As you are reading or afterward, talk about facts you find interesting or questions you have.

-Show your child how to use the table of contents, section headings, index, and glossary word list to find the answer to a specific question.

-Don't be afraid to jump around, reading pages that especially interest your child. You don't have to read a nonfiction book straight through.

Parents, educators or others who want to learn more about the National Education Association's Read Across America program can go to www.nea.org/grants/886.htm to find a variety of resources, tools, ideas and extensive information about the celebration of Dr. Seuss's birthday, March 2.