Beloved children’s classic “The Cat in the Hat” turns 57 today!
“The Cat in the Hat” was written by celebrated children’s book author Dr. Seuss (Theodor Geisel, 1904-1991) after being requested by Houghton Mifflin’s education division director William Spaulding (both had known each other since the war) to create a 225-word primer for children. “Write me a story that first-graders can’t put down!” he reportedly said, a challenge that in turn was prompted by an article published on LIFE magazine in 1954 and criticized children’s reading levels: John Hersey’s “Why Do Students Bog Down on First R? A Local Committee Sheds Light on a National Problem: Reading.”
Since Seuss was already under contract with Random House, both publishers agreed for the former to publish the education edition while the latter, the trade edition. Thus, “The Cat in the Hat” was released on March 12, 1957.
Seuss reportedly gave varying accounts regarding the conception of the book, but what he was said to have told biographers Judith and Neil Morgan was that Spaulding provided him a list of 348 words that six-year-olds should already be familiar with. In an interview with Bio, former Seuss editor and collaborator Michael K. Frith recalled, “So Ted took this list of words, all unrelated words, and he ran his eye down just looking for something that rhymes. And it was ‘cat,’ and it was ‘hat.” In the end, Seuss was able to create the story with exactly 236 different words.
Critics had nothing but warm praises for “The Cat in the Hat,” with one even calling it a “tour de force.” The success of this book was key to Random House launching its Beginner Book division, of which Seuss was president. In 1958, Seuss published the sequel, “The Cat in the Hat Comes Back.”
“The Cat in the Hat” remains an influential contribution to literature and education, a favorite among children, teachers, and the reading public at large. It is regarded as one of the bestselling children’s book ever. Seuss himself was even quoted as saying that he’s “proudest” of this book “because it had something to do with the Dick and Jane primers,” referring to characters of primers by William S. Gray and Zerna Sharp that were used between the ‘30s and the ‘70s to teach children in the US. In other media, “The Cat in the Hat” spawned an animated TV special in 1971 and a live action film in 2003, among many other adaptation in theater and educational software.
You might also want to check out: Today in History (1966): Dr. Seuss’ ‘How the Grinch Stole Christmas!’ airs for the first time.