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Groton - Inside a coastal Tudor-style mansion on Sunday, streamers in primary colors hung from chandeliers and mahogany walls, while children brimming with excitement paused for portraits in front of a two-story ornamental fireplace, temporarily hidden behind an illustration of green eggs and ham.
The University of Connecticut's Avery Point campus was playing host to a Read Across America event, inviting young children to take a free book and participate in games and crafts on the birthday of children's author Theodore Geisel, better known as Dr. Seuss.
Read Across America is a program sponsored by the National Education Association to help encourage the enjoyment of reading. The student clubs at Avery Point - including student government, student ambassador club and the EcoHusky environmental club - organized Sunday's event and added a marine science spin.
Small children filled the Avery Point's Branford House, munching on buttery popcorn and screaming in English, Spanish and that unintelligible combination of syllables universally spoken by toddlers.
Visitors could get a Polaroid picture of themselves posing with the Cat in the Hat and the UConn husky mascot, get face paintings and balloon animals or color pictures with a maritime theme.
A large shark balloon welcomed kids to one room of the Branford House, where parents could gaze out of large windows at the ocean while the kids played with toys, looked at marine-themed picture books or, if particularly bold, interacted with sea creatures.
Avery Point's Project Oceanology, a group that focuses on educating the public about marine science, had three "touch tanks" set up in the room where kids could hold crabs, snails or a lobster.
Some children preferred to look at the creatures rather than touch them. Project O Chief Instructor Lauren Rader said that was normal for young kids, and that some had heard myths about the animals from adults - such as that the lobsters would pinch or that the horseshoe crab could sting them.
Part of the job of Project O staff manning the touch tanks is to educate people about the proper way to handle the animals, she said.
One brave 4-year-old, Nathan Webb, questioned Project O staff, prodding different species and asking for their names.
"What about that?" he said, grabbing a hermit crab.
But another girl backed away as a Project O staff member held up a lobster, though she watched the crustacean curiously.
Avery Point Community Outreach Coordinator Lisa Hastings said the Read Across America event attracted between 400 and 500 people last year and expected similar numbers this year. There isn't much to do on a weekend in late winter, she said, making the Read Across America activities particularly popular.
"It's a good time. (The students) love doing this event," said Hastings from beneath a blue Cat in the Hat hat.