Grab a hat …

Coast Guard Commandant Adm. Paul Zukunft reads "Oh, the Places You'll Go!" U.S. Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 2nd Class Patrick Kelley.

Coast Guard Commandant Adm. Paul Zukunft reads “Oh, the Places You’ll Go!” U.S. Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 2nd Class Patrick Kelley.

Coast Guard members are used to giving and receiving commands. But one recent command was a bit unusual – “Grab your hat and read with the cat!”

The call to action was in honor of Dr. Seuss’ birthday and in conjunction with the annual Read Across America Day. Now in its 18th year, Read Across America focuses on motivating children to read together as part of the nation’s largest reading observance.

A Coast Guardsman aboard Coast Guard Cutter Steadfast reads a children's story as part of the United Through Reading program. Photo courtesy of United Through Reading.

A Coast Guardsman aboard Coast Guard Cutter Steadfast reads a children’s story as part of the United Through Reading program. Photo courtesy of United Through Reading.

A group of Coast Guard members experienced this power of connecting firsthand as they read to family and loved ones thanks to United Through Reading. United Through Reading helps ease the stress of separation for families in the military by having adults read children’s books aloud via DVD for little ones to watch at home.

“Coast Guard children are in a constant state of flux with short, frequent deployments, so United Through Reading is an ideal way to add stability and connection in Coastie families through the power of reading aloud,” said Tina Wright, national program manager for the Coast Guard.

Wright also shared that studies show it takes children three months to adjust to a major change in their lives which adds up to a lot of instability for Coast Guard children if a parent returns from a patrol just as the child has adjusted to the service member’s absence. Reading programs like United Through Reading provides the continuity and emotional connection children need as well as the opportunity for the adult and child to connect through books. Reading also helps encourage literacy, builds emotional connections and makes homecoming easier.

One Coast Guard member who participated was Chief Petty Officer Eric Lowe who read two books to his boys, Liam and Evin. One of the books he selected was “The Snowy Day,” Ezra Jack Keats. Lowe selected the book because he just transferred to Washington, D.C., from California and neither of his children had seen snow. With the recent snow, he thought it was the perfect choice.

“My wife and I read books to our boys every night that we have the opportunity, and in my current position it keeps me out more frequently,” said Lowe. “Now I can ‘read to them’ without being there. And the fact they give us the actual books we read was outstanding.”

Petty Officer 1st Class Jeremy Bloom also participated and selected “Punk Farm” by Jarrett Krosoczka as his book.

“I have three daughters ranging in age from seven to one and it’s really difficult keeping their attention,” said Bloom. “The book oozes energy, complete with bass solos from a talking goat, exciting drum rhythms from a hyped up cow and rockin’ guitar riffs by a pig. The book practically picked itself!”

The crew aboard Coast Guard Cutter Monomoy shares their book selections from the United Through Reading program. Photo courtesy of United Through Reading.

The crew aboard Coast Guard Cutter Monomoy shares their book selections from the United Through Reading program. Photo courtesy of United Through Reading.

The opportunity was special for Bloom as his family currently lives in another state while he works in a special assignment with the Master Chief Petty Officer of the Coast Guard’s Office at Coast Guard Headquarters. He shared that he misses them tremendously and that he values any opportunity to connect. As an added bonus, he acknowledged his DVD recording of “Punk Farm” probably “provided a little entertainment value to my wife Melissa.”

Lt. Raquel Salter also connected with her family through reading and selected a Dr. Seuss book, “because the story encourages people to read and he is my niece’s favorite author.”

Salter chose to read to her 7-year-old niece, who takes it very hard whenever she gets called up for Coast Guard duty. Salter recalled the time she spent deployed to the Deepwater Horizon response for her niece’s third birthday and from the time Salter got home, until her niece’s fourth birthday, “she reminded me every month that I was not at her birthday party.”

“The most amazing part of it is that she is also the biggest Coast Guard supporter in my family,” said Salter.

Whether you are reading to your own child or a little one in your community, today serves as an important reminder of the power of picking up a book to connect with children. Or, as Dr. Seuss himself would say, “You’re never too old, too wacky, too wild, to pick up a book and read with a child.”

Editor’s note: Tina Wright is United Through Reading’s national program manager for the Coast Guard. Get in touch with Tina if you want to kick off your program or get quarterly book shipments, ongoing support and supplies for an existing program via TinaWright@utr.org.

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