Staff Photo: Brendan Sullivan Guest reader Kendra Skellen reads kindergarten students at Alcova Elementary School Dr. Seuss's One Fish Two Fish Red Fish Blue Fish book in celebration of the 16th annual National Education Association's Read Across America Day in Dacula Friday. Skellen a Gwinnett County Public Library, Dacula Branch Manager was among the several guest readers who read to students in honor of Seuss, the famous children's author on his 109th birthday.
DULUTH -- Payton Bowens, 13, thinks reading is magic.
"You can picture everything in your head," said Bowens, a student at Hull Middle School, who spent time during home room Friday poring over "Elephant Run," a young adult historical novel.
As Bowens lost himself between the pages early Friday, he wasn't alone. Thousands of fellow Gwinnett County Public Schools students took part in Read Across America Day, an annual event celebrating the birthday of Dr. Seuss and encouraging literacy among young people.
Beverly Johnson, a science and language arts teacher at Hull Middle, said the yearly event is "so important ... it gives us a chance to emphasize to these students all the different, amazing things they can learn just by picking up a book."
Kia Henley, an administrator at Alcova Elementary School in Dacula, said students spent the day with guest readers like the city's mayor, several Gwinnett County government officials and a professor of meteorology from the University of Georgia.
Henley said she enjoys the annual event because "we get to continue to create literary awareness for our young readers."
In addition, celebrating the works of Dr. Seuss is a plus for the students, Henley said.
"The themes of Dr. Seuss have so much meaning for these children," she said. "They teach them to be kind to one another, how to be a good friend, and I think it's awesome to have a day to celebrate him as an author."
Johnson said that even at the middle school level, the lessons of Dr. Seuss hold their value.
"They teach our students that it's OK to be silly," Johnson said. "And there's always a moral to every one of the stories."
Hull Middle student Kathryn Linn, 12, said she enjoys the celebrated children's author. She sported a yellow Seuss-themed shirt Friday.
Kai Thibodeaux, a 13-year-old at Hull Middle, is also a fan. Also, Friday gave him a chance to sport a Dr. Seuss shirt.
"In elementary school, you've got special days where you get to dress up. .. like pajama day," Thibodeaux said. "They take all that away when you get to middle school, so this is nice."
Officials at Minor Elementary of Lilburn let their students and teachers show up in pajamas Friday.
Principal Christina Wimmer said Read Across America Day gives teachers a chance to help "develop a lifelong love of reading."
In addition to hosting guest readers, the school celebrated the opening of its Digital Den, with a donation of dozens of Kindles for the students at the school. Holcombe Financial donated the devices.
According to its website, the National Education Association "is building a nation of readers through its signature program, NEA's Read Across America. Now in its 16th year, the program focuses on motivating children and teens to read through events, partnerships, and reading resources."
Alcova Elementary kindergarten teacher Jimmy Peeples said Read Across America Day helps "hook the kids on reading ... so that they'll do better in the future."
-- Staff Photographer Brendan Sullivan contributed to this report