Thursday, March 01, 2007

The 50-year-old cat

Fifty years ago today, one of the great masterpieces of American literature was published: The Cat in the Hat, by Dr Seuss (Theodore Geisel), written in response to the problem of Dick and Jane and "why Johnny can't read" (and specifically, John Hersey's suggestion in a 1954 Life magazine article that Dr Seuss write a reading primer), revolutionized how children learn to read.

Happy birthday, Cat in the Hat!

The sun did not shine
Till the letter carrier came
Bearing a package.
Look! My name!

I sat with Helena.
We sat there, we two.
With a brand new book
We know just what to do.

We looked!
On either side of this big book we sat.
We looked!
And we loved it!
The Annotated Cat!
And we wondered,
"Why, I didn't know that!"

I know it is cold
And the sun is not sunny.
But we can read
This great book that is funny!

Philip Nel introduces and annotates the Cat in The Annotated Cat: Under the Hats of Seuss and His Cats. The original pages are reproduced of both The Cat in the Hat and The Cat in the Hat Comes Back (a great bonus for me, because I've never read it!), often alongside Seuss's original sketches, colour prototype pages, or author's proofs with Seuss's notes. The annotations also incorporate cartoons that influenced or were influenced by the Cat, illustrations from other Seuss works, and frames from the animated Cat.

The book is brimming with anecdotes and historical tidbits, regarding both Seuss (biographical details) and the times he was writing in (for example, statistics regarding the average household and the book's reception internationally).

Dr Seuss on where he gets his ideas:

This is the most asked question of any successful author. Most authors will not disclose their source for fear that other, less successful authors will chisel in on their territory. However, I am willing to take that chance. I get all my ideas in Switzerland near the Forka Pass. There is a little town called Gletch, and two thousand feet up above Gletch there is a smaller hamlet called Uber Gletch. I go there on the fourth of August every summer to get my cuckoo clock repaired. While the cuckoo is in the hospital, I wander around and talk to the people in the streets. They are very strange people, and I get my ideas from them.

This is a be-yoo-tiful book! There's remarkable insight into how a writer works, revises, perfects, as well as into the editorial process as a whole: why the rhymes and rhythms work, how they work in tandem with the layout to compel the reader to turn the page, how pages were combined or broken up to enhance the flow, how the illustrations were tweaked for colour and repetition of line or shape to contribute to emotional effect. Also, the differences between the book and the animated television special (a household favourite) are spelled out, showing how they serve different but complementary interpretations suited to their respective media.

Helena can't read quite yet, but we're working on it!

Tomorrow is Dr Seuss's birthday. Celebrating both the Cat and the good Doctor is Project 236, a (US) nationwide read-aloud of The Cat in the Hat on March 2 at 2:36 (there are only 236 different words in the book).

Send the Cat a birthday card! Random House will donate one children’s book to First Book, an organization that gives books to disadvantaged kids, for every online birthday card received on its website.

1 comment:

Suzanne said...

This looks fascinating -- I'll have to look for it. As for 2:36 reading, I wonder why my library has it set for 1:30 tomorrow????