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A Fuse #8 Production
Inside A Fuse #8 Production

Top 100 Picture Books #36: The Cat in the Hat by Dr. Seuss

#36 The Cat in the Hat by Dr. Seuss (1957)
50 points

Adore the story and it brought reading to an access level for beginning readers. – Mary Friedrichs

The poor cat didn’t make it onto the list last time because I wasn’t including easy readers.  Now he bursts onto the scene, hat askew, intentions questionable, lovable to his core.  Recently he’s been turned into an animated serious on television.  He’s appearing in countless easy nonfiction books.  He’s even slated for a new movie (see: the end of this post).

The plot as described by Anita Silvey’s 100 Best Books for Children reads, “The cat arrives one day to entertain two young children.  As the rhyme spins out of control, so do the antics of the mayhem-making cat, and chaos ensues.  But before Mother returns, the cat cleans up everything, leaving the children to ponder whether or not to tell her what happened.”

In terms of its creation, one of the best explanations I’ve found actually came from in an article discussing how Dr. Seuss had a tendency to write books as responses to dares.  As they so eloquently put it, “It started with a 1955 article by William Spaulding of Houghton Mifflin, called ‘Why Johnny Can’t Read’. Instead of taking the easy route (‘Because Johnny is stupid.’) Spaulding analyzed the state of reading material for young children and found it insufferably boring. Not only did nobody care about Dick and Jane throwing a ball, least of all small children with short attention spans, but the choice of words was haphazard – throwing in anything with one or two syllables instead of deliberately coming up with the most useful words to help kids learn. Spaulding hooked up with Seuss and challenged him with the novel idea of writing a book with an actual story kids would want to read. If that wasn’t crazy enough, he asked him to use a list of 300 words that they had come up with, targeted toward helping kids practice phonics. Seuss thought this was insane and was attempting to politely back out of it when he glanced at the list one more time and decided he’d make a title out of the first two rhyming words he saw. They were “cat” and “hat”. Nine months of frustrating work later, he had a book that was 1702 words long with only 220 unique words, telling an interesting story, introducing an unforgettable character, and completely written in anapestic dimeter.”

According to Silvey it wasn’t until the bookstore edition was published that the title made any waves at all.  Once it was discovered it managed to sell a MILLION copies in three years.

As I may have mentioned before, I’m a sucker for a good statue.  This pairing from the Dr. Seuss National Memorial at The Quadrangle in Springfield, Massachusetts fulfills my every need. So cool.

In 1971 they turned it into an animated film.  It’s a bit long but this doggone song, THIS DOGGONE SONG, will simply not leave my brain.  The ultimate earworm.  Watch it at your own risk.

I will spare you the horrendous produce-placement-strewn Mike Myers fiasco.  Are you happy or sad to hear they’re going to try it again?

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. Glad to see this make the list! Alas, the folks at Cracked have their facts a bit cracked. William Spaulding was head of Houghton Mifflin’s Educational Division. The book (not article) Why Johnny Can’t Read was by Rudolf Flesch. The significant article was by John Hersey. The final book has 236 words (not 220). The origin story (by Seuss) is just that — a story. Very likely his sketch of a cat in a stovepipe hat begat the story: in his very first account of writing the book, that’s what he says. Also, images came more readily to him than words did. It is true, however, that his favorite story of the book’s origins is the rhyming-words story. For those who may be interested, The Annotated Cat has more details.

    • Elizabeth Bird says

      Dang. Knew I should have bought Annotated Cat and used it. Mea culpa, Phil. You are the Cat man of record.

  2. Ah, just thinking about this book starts the sound bites in my brain.

    “It is fun to have fun, but you have to know how.”

    “That is what the cat said, then he fell on his head….”

    “Well, what would you do if your mother asked YOU?”

  3. Actually, the Cracked crack-up is sort of interesting. The author has clearly read the story, but has simply jumbled the specifics. He/she is thinking of John Hersey’s article “Why Do Children Bog Down on First ‘R’?” (Life, 1954), but instead substitutes the Houghton Mifflin editor for article’s author and Flesch’s book for Hersey’s article. It’s as if she/he is working from memory. But, as Mark Twain said, over 50% of what you read on the internet is false. 😉