By Steve Fisher
WHEN THE FOLKS at
Random House, longtime
publishers of the works of
Dr. Seuss, realized that
The Cat in the Hat is
turning 50, they decided
to release a commemorative edition—and concluded that a special celebration was in order.
To come up with a concept to propel the
beloved children’s book into the future, they
decided to look to the past.
Working with Dr. Seuss Enterprises,
Random House explored the origin of the
famous book about a fantasy feline facilitating
fun for two kids stuck in the house alone on a
rainy day. The inspiration was an article that
Pulitzer Prize–winning author John Hersey
wrote for Life magazine in the mid-1950s,
claiming American children couldn’t read
because the boring and “antiseptic” primers
they were using in the classroom could not
compete with modern entertainment,
explains Shanta Small, publicity manager for
Random House Children’s Books.
In the article, Hersey, who won the Pulitzer
for his novel A Bell for Adano, “challenged”
Theodor Geisel, better known as
Dr. Seuss, to write something
first graders wouldn’t be able to
put down. Furthermore, Geisel
would be able to use only 236
words, culled from an elementary school vocabulary list.
A year and a half later, The
Cat in the Hat was born. Filled
with fanciful images and amusing
rhymes, it went on to sell millions
of copies worldwide, in 20 languages. It spawned four othe r
books, including The Cat in the Hat
Comes Back and I Can Read with My Eyes
Shut!, a TV special, a movie, a Broadway musical, a theme-park ride, a plethora of products
and a glut of imitators.
Cat in the Hat
At 50, you merit
Because the original aim of the
book was to promote child literacy,
Random House Children’s Books and
Dr. Seuss Enterprises felt any celebration
of its birth should focus on that issue, which
remains a problem today. According to a
recent study published in the Handbook of
Early Literacy Research, Volume 2 (The
Guilford Press, 2006), children in middle-income neighborhoods have about 13 books
each. In contrast, for low-income children,
the ratio is estimated to be one book for
every 300 kids.
What better tribute to Dr. Seuss and
his Cat in the Hat than to try to even the playing field?
A series of activities and events are
planned to mark the milestone, all benefiting
First Book (
www.firstbook.org), a nonprofit
organization devoted to giving children from
low-income families the opportunity to read
and own their first new books. For example,
readers can go to a Web site (
ville.com) where electronic birthday cards can
be sent to the Cat at no charge, and each card
will earn a free book for the organization.
Finally, 50 artists have been
invited to pay tribute to Dr.
Seuss—in songs, poems, paintings or autographed Cat hats—
by using the 236 words and his
artwork. The items will be auctioned by Guernsey’s auction
house, and all proceeds will
benefit First Book.
Happy birthday, Cat. May
you live long, educating and
entertaining children for
generations to come. C
An Ode to Dr. Seuss
By T. Foster Jones
Writing a book for small children’s
The effort can make one a bit of
The words must be simple, and yet
they must rhyme;
They need to make sense (well,
most of the time).
They might teach you to laugh, or
teach you to think;
They might teach you to look for
red fish in the sink.
There might be a lesson or no
lesson at all;
What on earth can you learn from a
Who, after all?
But putting these stories within a
And letting them learn all the
lessons they teach
Must happen, for inside every one
Is a Horton, a Mayzie, a Cat or
Theodor Geisel, aka Dr. Seuss
Taught the lessons—he taught of
the Cat who got loose;
He rhymed about Horton, who
heard a small Who;
He wrote about green eggs, and
Sam I Am too.
The Costco Connection
A variety of titles by Dr. Seuss, including
The Cat in the Hat, are available in Costco
warehouses and at costco.com.
But the lesson he thought most
important of all:
A person’s a person, no matter