AUBURN – Oh, sure, she looks mild-mannered. Until she puts on that fur vest. The tall hat. The playful shoes, gloves and bow-tie.

That’s when Nancy Lander’s inner Cat comes out.

When she couldn’t make it to classrooms this year on Dr. Seuss’ birthday because of school testing, Lander stood next to a 10-foot tall inflatable hat, in full Cat in the Hat dress, and waved to kids as they got off the bus at Sherwood Heights Elementary School.

Each winter, for the 17 years she’s been a teacher, she’s had a steadily growing Dr. Seuss-theme corner of her room. Lander, a special education teacher, has a fourth and fifth grade class. Word gets out quick. Students know the decorations – stuffed animals, stripped trinkets, lamps, banners, books – are coming.

“It’s a lot of fun for the kids, for me too,” said Lander. “The kindergartners are great,” saying “You’re ‘The Cat in the Hat lady!'”

She started collecting Cat in the Hat things years ago, before she was married. After she became a teacher, she started turning it into a learning experience. Projects have included drawing pictures and making up posters. In one assignment, students read a biography of Theodor “Dr. Seuss” Geisel and were asked to list three things they’d learned about the famous author.

“Dr. Seuss’ mom and dad called him Tedd,” wrote one.

“He liked to draw animals,” wrote another.

And, in only the way a child could, another told Lander that after Dr. Seuss died he stopped writing books.

“It makes learning fun, that’s the important part,” Lander said. “‘The Cat in the Hat’ books, Dr. Seuss, everything is very friendly for the struggling reader. … These kids will pick it up and reminisce, they almost reminisce on learning how to read.”

When it’s not on display in the classroom, her collection resides at home in a Cat in the Hat-theme sewing room.

Lander’s gotten a partner in crime for her school room visits the past two years: Education technician Pam McCullough has joined her, dressed as Thing 1.

“She made her costume and found the blue hair,” she said.

They hand out stickers and stripped candy and act silly together.

“The big thing (students ask) is, ‘Where’s Thing 2?'” Lander said. “Unfortunately, both years we’ve done it, Thing 2 has been sick.”

(Really, he’s been sick in a he-doesn’t-exist kind of way. Lander said the kids have pretty much caught on.)

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