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A Fuse #8 Production
Inside A Fuse #8 Production

Top 100 Picture Books Poll Results (#9)

#9: Millions of Cats by Wanda Gag (1928)
94 points (16 votes, #5, #2, #8, #7, #6, #3, #6, #5, #9, #2, #7, #3, #7, #3, #5, #5)

Because when I read it as an adult, I was transported directly back to Miss Rita Lewandowski’s kindergarten class and anything that can do that must be powerful. – Jim Averbeck

Not only was this a ground-breaking picture book, but it has one of the best refrains ever. – Faith Brautigam

I think I like it because the cats so improbably eat each other all up. I spent lots of time trying to figure out how they could do that. – Sherry Early

Who would have thought that a tale of cannibalistic felines would turn out to be one of the greatest storytime classics of all time?

With its 1928 publication date, Millions of Cats came close to becoming the oldest picture book on this list.  It was narrowly beaten by The Tale of Peter Rabbit (cheekily published in 1902).  However, according to 100 Best Books for Children, this title has the distinction of being the American picture book that has continuously been in print the longest.  Take THAT you wascally wabbit!

The synopsis of this book’s plot from B&N reads, "An old couple is lonely – if only they had a pretty white cat! The old man finds a hill covered with cats and brings them home. His wife points out that they cannot possibly keep them all. The cats get in a fight over who gets to stay, and the couple is left with a scrawny little kitten. With love, the kitten becomes the most beautiful cat in the world."

Was Millions of Cats the impetus that brought about the Caldecott Medal?  Possibly.  As Minders of Make-Believe puts it, "when librarians awarded Millions of Cats a Newbery Honor, they chose to recognize the book’s distinction while apparently not feeling quite right about giving the literature prize to a picture book.  It may well have been then that the idea for a companion award for illustration was born, although it would be another decade before the Caldecott Medal became a reality. . ."  Remember, the first Newbery Award was given out in 1922.  It wouldn’t be until 1938 that the Caldecott would come along as well.

Wanda Gag, of course, is one of those artists that rocked the bohemian scene.  Ernestine Evans of Coward-McCann (coward?) attended one of Gag’s art shows and saw the potential there.  Minders says, "When Evans contacted her about the possibility of their working together on a picture book, Gag in her diary at first belittled the project as something to be executed rapidly, for the money.  She soon would decide otherwise and conclude that she had stumbled onto a major new pathway for her artistry.  Many another graphic artist of her generation – including some inspired directly by Gag’s example – would come to the same conclusion."  100 Best Books for Children supplements this information with an additional note.  Apparently even before Evans came along, Gag had been working on this book.  But in 1922 and 1923 she was unable to locate a willing publisher.  After Evans showed interest, "Gag returned to her 1923 manuscript and extensively rewrote it; in the process the refrain ‘Cats here, cats there, / Cats and kittens everywhere, / Hundreds of cats, / Thousands of cats, / Millions and billions and trillions of cats’ became more pronounced with each revision."

That kind of revision has meant that the picture book itself is hugely influential, even to this day.  After all, it has been noted more than once that the 2009 Caldecott winner In the House of the Night appears to be a kind of ode to Gag’s style.  Certainly the two books have their similarities.  Just look at the cats!

Want to see a little Gag up close?  An article in about a man who sold his literary archives to the University of Minnesota said that this original illustration study by Wanda Gag is part of the Kerlan Collection:

Says the piece, "The Kerlan Collection, the U’s internationally significant vault of children’s literature, contains original manuscripts and illustrations of Arnold Lobel’s ‘Frog and Toad are Friends,’ Margaret Wise Brown’s ‘Goodnight Moon,’ and Wanda Gag’s ‘Millions of Cats,’ among many others. The illustrations can be particularly desirable; New Ulm artist Gag’s work now sells for thousands of dollars."

There was one other place you could get your Gag fix, though.  Until recently the Donnell Central Children’s Room owned one of the original wood blocks created by Wanda Gag for Millions of Cats.  Now it remains in the hands of the conservators of the Stephen A. Schwarzman Building.  Ah well.

A special place in my heart will always remain for that delightful faux sequel (with a graphic so real you’ll half suspect it’s on the up-and-up) Millions of Rats.

By the way, special love for the person who turned this book into an elaborate cake.  It was created by Karen McCain and Nancy Kaul and was a runner-up at the Topeka and Shawnee County Public Library Edible Book Festival back in April 4, 2008.

The New York Times called it "A perennial favorite."

And SLJ‘s One Hundred Books That Shaped the Century (I just discovered this!) said, " Considered by many to have ushered in the age of the modern picture book, this Newbery Honor winner is characterized by innovative design and a strong storyteller’s cadence."

Previous Top 100 Picture Book Posts include:



























About Elizabeth Bird

Elizabeth Bird is currently the Collection Development Manager of the Evanston Public Library system and a former Materials Specialist for New York Public Library. She has served on Newbery, written for Horn Book, and has done other lovely little things that she'd love to tell you about but that she's sure you'd find more interesting to hear of in person. Her opinions are her own and do not reflect those of EPL, SLJ, or any of the other acronyms you might be able to name. Follow her on Twitter: @fuseeight.


  1. Catherine says:

    Two for two! The only problem is my top ten list has 15 books on it. I just couldn’t make the hard choices. This list has been better than my children’s lit course. I second the comment from last week that there’s a book in these posts. Thank you, Betsy, for all your hard work!

  2. Genevieve says:

    Aaaaand I’m out. I never even considered this one! Maybe because I’m highly allergic to cats? Never read it or had it read to me, and I had no idea it was a beloved classic. Looked at the Caldecott lists, but didn’t think to look at the Newbery lists pre-Caldecott.

  3. Sherry says:

    Ha! Got one.

  4. I was unfamiliar with this book until I read about the book that came out last year: Wanda Gag: The Girl Who Lived to Draw by Deborah Kogan Ray and I checked out Millions of Cats at the same time. I’ve found that often with some of the older classics that they just don’t appeal as much to the kids I read with- I guess the illustrations often don’t entice them as much as more current vibrant ones. But Millions of Cats surprised me and the kids (and adults) thoroughly enjoyed this story.

  5. Well, even if I hadn’t forgotten to send in my top 10 guesses, this would’ve lost me my ARC – I’ve never even heard of it!

  6. Jennifer Schultz says:

    When I sent in my top 10 predictions, I looked at the New York Times parents’ guide, the 100 Best Books for Children, and NYPL’s picture books every child should know list. I kept seeing this one listed, but didn’t think it would place in the top 10! Silly me. Oh, I’ll be sorry to see this end. And thanks for the 100 Books That Shaped the World list.

  7. Els Kushner says:

    I got my kid up this morning with the promise that I’d tell her what #9 was when she was out of bed. So among its many other awesomenesses, I must credit this list with helping us avoid the usual morning blow-up (plus, we spent breakfast speculating about what the next 8 titles will be).

  8. I look forward to the next 8 titles being revealed, it also makes me feel like I need to find something to look forward to finding out each morning when the list is done. Thank you for all the hard work that you obviously put into this…I’ve enjoyed it!! C’mon Miss Suzy!!!

  9. Fuse #8 says:

    I’ll do some subsequent follow-up posts once all is said and done. The revealing of the Mysterious #60. A piece on all the books people guessed would be in the Top 10 and then weren’t on the list at all. The final list of everything WITH commentary AND sources. Big plans. Big big plans!

  10. I’m so glad this made the top ten! I was afraid it wouldn’t because it’s so old, but simply had to vote for it. I remember reading it at my great-grandmother’s house while the grown-ups were talking. (I’d explore her bookshelves — she’d had ten kids and had some kids’ books.) Then I was delighted to discover it still in print when I had kids. Now as a librarian, it’s one of my favorite storytime picks, and getting the kids to chant the refrain is always a hit.

  11. I can’t wait to see the list of the top 10 shoe-ins that were de-nyed. I’m still walking around in a daze that I was taken out by sweet Trixie, (the little strumpet). I would have put my first born up for collateral on a bet that I had them all. I knew, Knew, KNEW I was right! Of course I totally cheated on making sure THIS book on my list. But that is our little secret Miss Betsy.