In honor of Theodor Seuss Geisel’s (better known as Dr. Seuss)birthday on March 2nd, this month’s famous cat is The Cat in the Hat. Little did Dr. Seuss know at the time he created The Cat in the Hat, that The Cat would become synonymous with his name. According to his biography on the History Channel, those who knew Geisel believed that The Cat in the Hat was not just a spokesman for the Dr. Seuss brand, but Geisel’s alter-ego.
“Children are just as smart as you are; The main difference is they don’t know as many words. If your story is simple, you can tell it just as if you were telling it to adults.” – Theodore Geisel
During the 1950’s in the US there was a notable rise in illiteracy among children. Some blamed the distraction of television in the home. Others, such as Rudolf Flesch the author of Why Johnny Can’t Read, blamed the techniques being used to teach reading in American schools. Schools were using the “look-say” or “sight words” method – memorizing words from the way they look. Also being used were the “Dick and Jane” books that were so proper and polite, that real school children found them boring and difficult to relate to.
“I read the list 40 times and got more and more discouraged; It was like trying to make a strudel without any strudels.” – Theodore Geisel
Book publishers sent out a challenge to writers to help create books that would teach children how to read. Dr. Seuss answered that challenge. He was to write a children’s book using only words from a list of 250 easy reader words. It wasn’t an easy challenge. While he was known to change his story, Geisel was said to have begun on his book by picking the first 2 rhyming words from the list – cat and hat. The process would take several drafts and about a year to finish.
“To write a 60 page book, I write more than 1,000 pages before I’m satisfied.” Theodore Geisel
The Cat in the Hat was finally published in the spring of 1957. The book 60 page book contained only 236 different words. It was a far cry from the “Dick and Jane” books. The Cat in the Hat introduced action, mischief and child-like behavior to children’s books. The illustrations made the words easy to understand.
Children instantly fell in love with Dr.Seuss. He was hailed as “the Savior of Children’s Literacy.” After only 3 years, The Cat in the Hat sold more than 1 million copies. Geisel began his own book company specifically to cater to children learning to read called “Beginner Books.” Whenever he wrote back to a fan, he used a stationary featuring The Cat and a rhyming message, calling it a “cat note.”
Today, The Cat in the Hat has been translated into 26 languages, more than 11 million copies have been printed, and a feature film staring Mike Myers was released in 2003. A memorial to Dr. Seuss sits in his hometown of Springfield Massachusetts which depicts The Cat standing of Geisel’s shoulder as he works at his drawing table. Dr. Seuss penned 6 different books that featured The Cat:
- The Cat in the Hat
- The Cat in the Hat Comes Back
- The Cat in the Hat Song Book
- The Cat’s Quizzer
- I Can Read with my Eyes Shut
- Daisy-Head Maizie