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Kindergartener reads his way through Dr. Seuss collection
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Kindergartener reads his way through Dr. Seuss collection

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BRISTOL, Tenn. — He may not eat green eggs and ham, but six-year-old Kevin Hernandez is developing into an A+ reader, and Dr. Seuss has helped him get there.

It all started with the Advanced Reading program at Bristol, Tennessee’s, Avoca Elementary, where Kevin was attending kindergarten. Students in the program get points for the books they read and receive an award at the end of the year if they get enough points.

But Kevin started the program late and was not able to get in the book a day that he needed. So his grandmother and guardian, Donna Loving, took him to the Avoca Branch Library in Bristol, Tennessee, to supplement his reading. That’s when they discovered the Dr. Seuss collection.

“They were interesting and they were good, and the more Kevin read them, his reading just got better and better,” said Loving. “He wasn’t really that good a reader when we started, and now he is reading fourth grade level books.”

Enchanted by the collection of the beloved children’s author, Kevin and his grandmother decided he would read the entire collection of original works — a total of 44 books. Although the Avoca Branch did not have all of the books in house, they were able to get them all through interlibrary loans.

Every day, Kevin would sit at the kitchen island with Loving and read out loud to her. Many of the words were rather advanced for a kindergartner, and Kevin soon realized his children’s dictionary did not have many of the words he was looking up, so Loving bought him a full dictionary.

“I wanted to be a good reader because I wanted to be smart,” Kevin explained.

After Kevin latched onto the Dr. Seuss books, Loving delved into researching the history of the famous author.

“Seuss said that if kids read out loud, they learn more than if they just read to themselves,” said Loving. “I think that’s why Kevin advanced so quickly, because he was reading all of these books with rhyming and characters.”

Before long, Kevin and his grandmother became a regular institution at the Avoca Branch Library, which had a summer reading program for children in which Kevin also participated. Over the summer, kids could turn in a reading log, and if they had read for at least an hour, they got a Pizza Hut coupon. Led by Nancy Turner, head of Avoca’s children’s section, the reading program also featured fun projects for the kids that related to the books they were reading, such as making toilet paper tube racecars.

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Though the summer programming at the library is over, Avoca has an ongoing story time every week, as well as a book club for kids. Turner also develops theme-related projects for the book clubs, such as sewing rag dolls and “churning” butter while reading the “Little House on the Prairie” books. Turner has developed many initiatives at the library and is still brainstorming others to get kids like Kevin interested in reading.

“A lot of it depends on the parent,” said Turner. “If parents introduce children to reading, they will be readers for life.”

Turner and Avoca Branch manager Susan Wolfe have been very supportive of Kevin’s reading goals, and Loving says the warm, cozy environment at the library has helped them feel at home. Kevin can readily point out where his favorite books are and he happily busies himself with the library’s toys.

Because Kevin started the Advanced Reading program at school late, he did not receive a trophy for his reading from the school, which gives each student who earns 50 points a medal, and a trophy for those earning 100 points. But Loving says he read enough to achieve the 100 points, so she had a reading trophy made for him.

What makes the accomplishment extra special for Kevin is that he suffered brain trauma as an infant. When he was three months old, Kevin was shaken by his father and suffered from Shaken Baby Syndrome. Loving says he was blue when he was admitted to the hospital and almost died. He spent more than a week recovering at Niswonger Children’s Hospital in Johnson City, Tennessee. She recalls that Kevin actually had brain hemorrhaging, and there was evidence of a previous episode as well.

“He’s a little miracle, and he is a fighter,” said Loving.

Although many infants who have been shaken suffer long-term negative effects, Kevin has not exhibited any and seems to be completely recovered. Loving points out that Kevin’s accomplishment of reading all 44 Dr. Seuss books and reading up to a fourth grade level while in kindergarten would indicate his learning abilities have not been adversely affected.

“It was a wonderful goal that Kevin set and he accomplished it,” said Wolfe. “It’s hard to read a whole collection by any author, even for adults.”

Though some would argue that innate ability is largely responsible for a child’s inclinations and abilities in reading, both Loving and Turner emphasize that parental encouragement and support is crucial.

“If parents only depend on what the school is going to teach them and not work with them themselves, then that is all they are going to get,” Loving said. “You have to work with your kids like you are homeschooling them.”

Loving says she and Kevin get up every morning at 6 a.m. and read and learn words for an hour. When Kevin comes home from school in the afternoon, they do another hour. Loving adds that the librarians are there to help foster a passion for reading and that the people at Avoca Branch have really helped bring books to life for Kevin and other children. Between Loving’s ongoing efforts at home and the assistance of the library, Kevin has overcome his challenges and become a stellar reader.

“He was so disciplined in his goal of reading all the Dr. Seuss books,” praised Loving, smiling proudly. “He is an exceptional kid and very sweet. I am really proud of him.”

Laura J. Mondul is a freelance writer. Send story ideas for Kids Making a Difference or Folks You Should Know by email at features@bristolnews.com or call Jan Patrick at 276-645-2515.

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