Maybe you heard. Pete the Cat’s in town!
Not to be confused with the Cat in the Hat, he is a character in his own right. And he has won the Theodor (Dr.) Seuss Geisel Award (along with 19 others), given annually by the American Library Association to the author(s) and illustrator(s) of the most distinguished American book for beginning readers.
He is also something of a cottage industry, having sold more than 10 million copies of stories like I Love My White Shoes, Rocking in My School Shoes, Four Groovy Buttons, and Pete the Cat Saves Christmas.
Eric Litwin is the author of those first four books in the popular series and his appearance here was a great get for the district, thanks to the persistence of Joelle Berns, who teaches in the Pre-K program at Capitol View Elementary School.
“I’ve been after him for a couple of years, trying to find grant money,” Berns said Friday morning after one of Litwin’s lively performances. “He is in so much demand. We were lucky to get him. It finally came together.”
Demand is right. Litwin said he makes between 300 and 400 appearances each year at grade schools, collegiate schools of education and educator conferences. On Thursday, he delighted audiences at Morris and Moulton. Same thing Friday at Capitol View where Litwin did two shows, and they are shows. He is a self-described “folksy, fun guy,” who also likes to refer to himself as a “recovering teacher.”
Educators, musicians and best-selling authors are not often rolled into one, but that’s Litwin.
“The 10 million books sold are nice,” he said, “but the main thing is improving early childhood literacy.”
His books are like printed M&Ms – movement and music, and kids respond to them. Especially when the author is in their gym, strumming his guitar and humming into his harmonica simultaneously. Litwin is goofy but good. There’s a method to his zaniness. Here’s how he puts it on his high-traffic website:
I am a former teacher. Today I call myself a “recovering” teacher.
One day I walked past a Kindergarten classroom and heard the teacher ask her students who would like to read a book. The children cheered with delight. One little girl was hugging her book like a teddy bear.
A few halls down, in my third grade class, I asked the same question. But this time there was no cheering. Many of the children looked bored and nervous.
I asked myself a simple question. What happened between Kindergarten and Third Grade that the joy of reading was lost for so many of my students.
I wanted to change this. I began bringing more music and interactivity into my instruction and developed a unique musical approach to early literacy that has now helped thousands and thousands of children learn to read and love books.
I call this method the Multi-Learning Approach. And it is at the heart of all my books.
None of the 3rd-5th graders “looked bored and nervous” during Friday’s Act II at Capitol View. They all looked like fans lucky enough to score tickets to a sold out concert. Meanwhile, the “promoter,” an unassuming but dedicated preschool teacher, was back in her classroom, stacking copies of Pete the Cat’s chronicles. She didn’t make a dime off it, but the show she brought to town was a big hit!