The children all gathered in the gym,

cheering, smiling, and waving at him.

The Cat in the Hat had a message to say,

about reading and brushing every day.

More than 500 local children wearing red- and white-striped top hats listened to a reading of Dr. Seuss books Tuesday.

It was all part of the National Education Association’s Read Across America Cat-a-Van Reading Tour, which stopped twice in Hopkinsville, first at Martin Luther King Jr. Elementary and later at Belmont Elementary.

The students watched as Thing 1 and Thing 2 moved throughout the audience. The children then joined in a chant to bring out the Cat in the Hat.

The cat of the hour made his appearance and talked about the importance of reading. Now celebrating its 16th year, the NEA’s Read Across America has 45 million participants, and this year program organizers added a focus on developing better oral health.

“We are partnering with Delta Dental of Kentucky because we know what our teachers are telling us,” said Earl Winman, executive committee member of the National Education Association. “There is a direct link between the physical wellness of a child and their wellness in school.”

During Tuesday’s stop at Belmont, Tammy York-Day, vice president of Delta Dental of Kentucky, explained how children in the U.S. miss 51 million school hours annually just from oral health problems.

She explained to the children that would equal 680,000 trips to the moon.

“I really feel this is a natural fit,” York-Day said. “If a child misses (school) because of oral health, they’re putting themselves at a disadvantage, and it’s an issue in Kentucky. We have to change this, and starting at this age is critical.”

The tour encouraged children to follow a 2x2+20 plan: brushing twice a day for two minutes and also reading for 20 minutes to develop good oral health and literacy skills.

The children each received a “Cat in the Hat” book along with a hat, a bookmark and a toothbrush. In addition, the schools each received a $1,000 grant to buy more books and other materials.

The Hopkinsville elementary schools were the only two stops in Kentucky for the tour, said Sharron Oxendine, president of Kentucky Education Association.

“We have the Read Across America program every year, and we are honored the NEA wanted to involve us,” Oxendine said. “Watching the expressions on some of the children’s faces and looking at how excited they get when they get a book, it’s wonderful.”

REACH MONICA K. SMITH at 270-887-3243 or

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