Selena Davison-Fulk, 4, stopped just inside the door of Du Quoin City Hall with her eyes as big as quarters. Standing in front of her was one of her favorite characters, the Cat in the Hat -- also known as Sherry DeAngelo, assistant coordinator for the John A. Logan Family Literacy Program. Selena didn't quite know what to do next.
Her hesitation only lasted a few seconds until DeAngelo kneeled down to look her latest admirer in the eye.
"I really like your makeup," the big cat said to the little one. Selena's mom had helped her put on some cat whiskers.
Selena grinned and blushed and stepped forward to shake the Cat in the Hat's hand, then hid behind her big sister, never taking her eyes off of her new fantastic friend.
Selena was one of about 20 local children who came to the library Monday night to celebrate Dr. Seuss' birthday and meet his most famous character.
The Cat in the Hat led all of the children to the front of the room to listen to her read "The Cat in the Hat Comes Back." They sat on the floor, enraptured -- rare for 4- and 5-year-olds -- as that famous cat made his trademark mess and then cleaned it up with a little help from little cats A, B and C.
By the last page of the book, there is a cat for every letter in the alphabet.
"Do you know the alphabet?" asked the Cat in the Hat. The children replied with an impromptu performance of "The ABC Song." One little boy was so excited that he sang the second verse -- same as the first -- as a soloist, and garnered a round of applause from the parents, who were listening just as intently as the children.
As soon as the story was done, the children were led to tables where DeAngelo had set up cardboard craft projects. Parents could carefully carry their children's creations -- bejeweled butterflies, Cat in the Hat masks and fanciful paper hats -- home to post on the fridge, while the kids clutched handfuls of free Dr. Seuss pencils and bookmarks.
There were treats, too, created by Library Director Kristina Benson, that looked like fantastic hats. And it was all free.
"It's supposed to be fun; reading is fun; going to the library is fun; doing things with family is fun," said DeAngelo. That's the essence of this part of the Family Literacy Program, she said -- having fun with family, reading, learning and playing together.
Of course, they also want to instill a love of reading in children, enlarge their vocabularies, improve their speech and language skills, and teach them something new, but no one said that was a dull proposition.
"We love when the parents are involved," she said. "And the kids love it, too! Parents are the first and most important teachers."
The "Cat in the Hat" event was fun for all involved. Parents were beaming and getting involved in their kids' craft projects. Kids were beaming and bouncing around the room, showing off their creations. And The Cat in the Hat just kept circling the room, encouraging the children and the parents and grinning from ear to ear.
The literacy program is funded by state and federal grants offered through the Illinois Secretary of State's Literacy Office, the Illinois State Board of Education and the Illinois Department of Human Services. The Dollar General Store's Literacy Foundation and individual donations also provide funding. Local support is provided by the United Way, civic and church organizations, and many other individuals.
For more information on the Family Literacy Program, contact DeAngelo at firstname.lastname@example.org or 800-851-4720.