In elementary classrooms across town Friday, young students put down their pencils and huddled quietly for story time, unknowingly participating in a nationwide effort to encourage literacy. With their attention focused on colorful illustrations, funny tales and poignant moments, educators in District 91 were hoping to spur lifelong relationships with books.

Read Across America, a literacy program sponsored by the National Education Association, is held annually in recognition of famed children’s book author Dr. Seuss. Nationally, the reading day was observed Monday, March 3.

Parents, teachers, athletes, elected officials and anyone else who may be able to encourage a young reader are asked to pitch in. In Forest Park, middle school students read aloud to children in every elementary school delivering the message that books are, well, cool.

“There’s really something to having older children read to younger children,” second-grade teacher Anne Sorkin said. “They can serve as role models in ways that adults just don’t.”

In Sorkin’s classroom at Betsy Ross Elementary, eighth-grader Alexandra Rueda read the story of a young boy who learns a number of valuable lessons before taking the throne as king of his country. The students were drawn in by the story, but at the end of the tale their questions for Rueda put her at center stage. They wanted to know what school she went to and whether she knew so-and-so. They learned that Rueda’s favorite subject is math, but that her reading and English classes are also fun.

Like all of the middle school students that participated in the program, Rueda is a member of the National Junior Honor Society. She admitted to being a bit nervous in front of the second-graders, but enjoyed the experience. Rueda used to read to her younger sister all the time, she said.

Down the hall at Betsy Ross, eighth-grader Katie Vilanova was reading to a group of kindergarteners.

“They really liked it, and they liked the pictures,” Vilanova said. “They laughed a lot.”