It's a birthday party of epic proportions as families flock to downtown Bakersfield for a day centered around the love of reading. Read Across Bakersfield takes place Sunday at the Fox Theater kicking off a week of events celebrating the birthday of Dr. Seuss.
Bakersfield Elementary Teachers Association President Michelle Johnson is spearheading the party, which features outdoor fun and a free screening of the Universal Pictures hit "The Lorax."
She said Read Across Bakersfield is giving a shot in the arm to the national event.
"We wanted to expand Read Across America and reach out to even more of the community. So we decided to take it to the Fox Theater and make it fun and interactive."
Read Across Bakersfield kicks off at 1 p.m. with a block party outside of the Fox. Face painters, a book walk, animals and bounce houses will be set up on the street for attendees to enjoy along with a special appearance by the Cat in the Hat.
The event will move into the theater at 2:30, where celebrity readers Mike Hart and state Sen. Jean Fuller will take the stage to read to the audience. Johnson is looking forward to the story time and how the audience responds to the selections.
"Mike Hart will be reading 'I Love You Stinky Face.' It's a really cute story about a little boy asking his mother if she would love him even if he was a smelly skunk. It's just a really fun book."
In addition to story time, Dr. Seuss characters Thing 1 and Thing 2 will be on hand to lead the audience in song and dance. Then the entire theater will take part in a serenade of "Happy Birthday" for the Cat in honor of what would have been Dr. Seuss' 109th birthday.
Once the reading, dancing and singing are concludes, "The Lorax" film will begin.
While the event is all about literacy, Johnson said screening the children's movie as a way to cap off the afternoon just made sense.
"We really wanted to show a movie that was about a well-known book, and it's Dr. Seuss. We knew it would be a great opportunity to bring in reading and have fun activities for everyone while they are there."
As the president of the teachers association, Johnson knows first-hand the importance of literacy and is hoping Read Across Bakersfield will help dispel a recent study that has Bakersfield at the top of a list of least literate cities in the U.S.
The study, by researchers from Central Connecticut State University, factored in a city's population, number of libraries and book stores, education rates and how many people read newspapers. Johnson said the study caught her eye, and broke her heart.
"I was reading the article and as it started to get to the least literate city, I was like, please, no, we can't be number one. Can we at least be number five?"
But Johnson is determined to do her part to help the city move away from the negative ranking.
"It's really a wakeup call, and we all need to work together. One person can't remove us from that list; it's going to take a group effort. Hopefully at some point we won't be number one, because this isn't a good number one to be."
In the past, hundreds of attendees made their way to the Fox for the event, and with tickets to the block party and movie screening free of charge, Johnson sees no reason why the family friendly event won't grow this year.
"Even if you can't get a ticket, I still encourage everyone to come down. The tickets are free, so some people who have picked them up may not make it. We can find room and make space; we try not to turn anyone away."