Fifty Years of 'The Cat in the Hat' The Cat in the Hat, the book about a mischievous, irrepressible soul who always seemed kind of ageless, is 50 years old. At the time of its debut in 1957, the Cat was an instant success. The Dr. Seuss classic is still captivating to children and the adults who read to them.

Fifty Years of 'The Cat in the Hat'

Fifty Years of 'The Cat in the Hat'

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"Look at me! Look at me now!" said the cat. TM & © Dr. Seuss Enterprises, L.P. 1957. All Rights Reserved. hide caption

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TM & © Dr. Seuss Enterprises, L.P. 1957. All Rights Reserved.

"Look at me! Look at me now!" said the cat.

TM & © Dr. Seuss Enterprises, L.P. 1957. All Rights Reserved.

How the Cat Got His Smile

Anita Silvey, author of 100 Best Books for Children, tells the story of the inspiration for The Cat in the Hat's white gloves and smile.

Fifty Years of 'The Cat in the Hat'

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Seuss Gets Metaphysical

In 1996, Noah Adams and Robert Siegel noticed that new research into sub-atomic particles echoed The Cat in the Hat Comes Back, the 1958 sequel to Dr. Seuss' classic tale.

Fifty Years of 'The Cat in the Hat'

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'Dr. Seuss and Mr. Geisel'

In 1995, co-authors Judith and Neal Morgan, discussed their biography of Theodor Geisel with Liane Hansen. The biographers noted that Dr. Seuss was shy and was afraid that he would disappoint children when kids would meet him.

Fifty Years of 'The Cat in the Hat'

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Theodor Geisel, aka Dr. Seuss, who died in 1991, continues to rank among America's most popular children's authors. Courtesy Dr. Seuss Enterprises, L.P. hide caption

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Courtesy Dr. Seuss Enterprises, L.P.

Theodor Geisel, aka Dr. Seuss, who died in 1991, continues to rank among America's most popular children's authors.

Courtesy Dr. Seuss Enterprises, L.P.

'Do You Hear?'

Courtesy Dr. Seuss Collection, Mandeville Special Collections Library, University of California, San Diego
One of Dr. Seuss&#039; original sketches shows pages 46-47 of  &#039;The Cat in the Hat.&#039;
Courtesy Dr. Seuss Collection, Mandeville Special Collections Library, University of California, San Diego

Instead of "Do you hear?" the typescript on the colored-pencil sketches (above) has the fish saying, "Look! I see her!" The change to "Do you hear?" for the final version (below) gives the fish a more parental tone, writes Philip Nel in The Annotated Cat. And the original illustration shows much more through the window. The mother's foot and hem are there, but so is a row of identical houses. So, in addition to placing his perspective closer to that of the children, the fish's "Look, I see her!" directs attention to the mother specifically, distinguishing her from everything else that is visible outside.

TM & © Dr. Seuss Enterprises, L.P. 1957. All Rights Reserved.
The final version of pages 46-47.
TM & © Dr. Seuss Enterprises, L.P. 1957. All Rights Reserved.
We looked!
Then we saw him step in on the mat!
We looked!
And we saw him!
The Cat in the Hat!

The Cat in the Hat, the book about a mischievous, irrepressible soul who always seemed kind of ageless, is 50 years old. At the time of its debut in 1957, the Cat was an instant success. The Dr. Seuss classic is still captivating to children and the adults who read to them.

It has everything a classic needs — a great plot, great characters, wonderful illustrations and a unique voice, says Anita Silvey, author of 100 Best Books for Children.

"Some books we read and we forget them right away," she says. "But there are those other books, that they just stay with us. And The Cat in the Hat is that kind of book."

And that means if you grew up reading The Cat in the Hat, there's a pretty good chance your children will read it, too.

On a cold, snowy, winter afternoon, Sonya Cohen curled up on a living room couch to listen to her children, 9-year-old Dio and 6-year-old Gabel read from one of her favorite childhood books.

Cohen began reading the book to her children while they were much younger. Dio, now a proficient reader, says she can remember sounding out the words to The Cat in the Hat when she was first learning to read .

"I liked the rhythm and the choice of words because they were not too easy and not too hard," she says.

In fact, the words to The Cat in the Hat were drawn from a vocabulary list for 6- and 7-year-olds. The list was given to Theodor Geisel, best known as Dr. Seuss, by William Spaulding, then the director of Houghton Mifflin's educational division.

According to Philip Nel, author of The Annotated Cat, Spaulding had seen a 1954 Life magazine article by the writer John Hersey. In that article, Hersey took on a problem that was bothering Americans at the time: Why Johnny can't read. Hersey concluded that the "Dick and Jane" readers that most schools used were just too boring. Hersey suggested that Dr. Seuss write a new reading primer for the nation's schoolchildren.

Nel says that Spaulding liked that idea and issued a challenge to Dr. Seuss.

"He said, 'Write me a story that first-graders can't put down.' And so Seuss did and he wrote The Cat in the Hat to replace Dick and Jane. And it was a huge hit. It was a huge commercial success from the moment of its publication. It really is the book that made Dr. Seuss, Dr. Seuss," Nel says.

Dr. Seuss had been a fairly successful children's book author up until then, though he was not yet a household name. He thought it would be easy to write the book Spaulding wanted, and expected to dash it off in no time. It took him a year and a half. Seuss underestimated how hard it would be to write a book using just over 200 words, Nel says.

"Seuss was used to inventing words when he needed them, so to stick to a word list was a huge challenge for him," Nel says. "And, in fact, his favorite story about the creation of The Cat in the Hat is that it was born out of his frustration with the word list. He said he would come up with an idea, but then he would have no way to express that idea. So he said...: 'I read the list three times and almost went out of my head. I said I'll read it once more and if I can find two words that rhyme, that will be my book. I found cat and hat and I said the title will be The Cat in the Hat.'"

In the end, Nel says, Seuss used exactly 236 words to write The Cat in the Hat, words that young readers can understand.

But if the words are important, so too are the characters and situations that Seuss created: An outrageous cat and two strange things creating havoc on a rainy day. And perhaps the most controversial character: the scolding goldfish who warns of dire consequences.

The secret to Dr. Seuss' success may be his ability to zero in on what kids like and, Nel says, his ability to create a character like the cat who embodies that.

"He breaks the rules and gets away with it. He's a lot of fun. He creates chaos and creates excitement, and relieves the boredom of a rainy day. And in the end, everything's cleaned up, mother comes home and is none the wiser."

The Annotated Cat
By Philip Nel

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The Cat in the Hat
By Dr. Seuss

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100 Best Books for Children
By Anita Silvey

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