The Cat in the Hat turns fifty, fifty turns the Cat in the Hat
IF YOU were a child in 1957 and owned a copy of The Cat in the Hat by Dr Suess then look in the attic and see if you still have the book - it could make you rich.
Hard though it may be to believe, the Cat In The Hat celebrated his 50th birthday on 1st March this year.
Fifty years ago, a copy cost the equivalent of 90p – today’s asking prices for the handful of surviving first editions go up to £4,500 – and very often higher. But rich pickings and Ebay sales aside, the book – and the Cat – remain huge icons for several generations, in particular the post-war ‘Baby Boom’generation into whose lives The Cat crashed – literally – in 1957 and proceeded to give educational reading a swift kickup the backside..
The book is a classic “home alone” story.
A brazen cat strolls uninvited into the home of a boy and girl whose mother is out. To the children’s horror, he proceeds to trash the house - he calls it “lots of good fun that is funny!” Miraculously (with the help of Thing One and Thing Two), he manages to tidy up before Mum comes home.
The Cat In The Hat is still popular today with young - and not-so-young - readers!
The Cat in the Hat was published jointly by Houghton Mifflin and Random House on 1st March, 1957. It was the 13th children’s book by Theodor Seuss Geisel, who came to be known as Dr Seuss. It made him a household name and his trickster furball a pop-culture icon.
Random House (now the sole US publisher) estimates it has sold 10.5 million copies. Millions more - no one knows how many - have been sold by mail-order book clubs.
In 1957, 29 million children were in kindergarten and elementary school. The ‘Dick and Jane’ primers (similar to the ‘Janet and John’ books in the UK) used to teach reading were considered dull and uninspiring.
Challenged by a Houghton Mifflin executive to write a story that “first-graders wouldn’t be able to put down,” Geisel created The Cat in the Hat. The rest is publishing history.
“Teaching children how to read with The Cat in the Hat was a real breath of fresh air,” says Philip Nel, whose The Annotated Cat: Under the Hats of Seuss and His Cats (Random House, £15) was recently published. “The rhymes just propel the reader along.”
Geisel was asked to use only 223 words from a list of 348 words for beginning readers. He ended up using 236. Even though it has been around for half a century, Cat is still popular with kids (and parents) and sells hundreds of thousands of copies a year.
The book became a much-maligned movie starring Mike Myers as the cat in 2003, with many ‘Cat’ fans saying that the film was totally unfaithful to the spirit of the iconic book.
“Reading it is like listening to a great song,” says Nancy Karpyk, a kindergarten teacher from Weirton, West Virginia. “When I read it to my students, the rhythm of it makes them feel good. They love the rhymes, and they love the way the cat struts in the illustrations.”
But it’s what the cat gets away with that may have clinched his legacy.
“He’s a rebel, and Americans identify with rebels,” Nel says. “He’s a con artist who creates a sense of possibility like the Wizard of Oz or Professor Harold Hill in The Music Man. “
Some Cat facts:
• Geisel thought he could write the book in a week, but it took him a year and a half.
• The cat’s face is said to have been inspired by that of a Houghton Mifflin elevator operator who Geisel thought had “a secret smile” and who wore gloves.
Prison cats paroled
At the Southeast State Correctional Facility in Windsor, Vermont, inmates are subjected to head counts several times a day. Not Ziggy, Marmalade, Smokey and Shane, though - they come and go as they please.
They’re prison cats, but only for now. They are being involuntarily paroled by the new superintendent of Vermont’s largest women’s prison, to the chagrin of inmates who feed them, pay for their care and cherish them.
“It is not a physical plant that is conducive to a pet programme,” said Superintendent Anita Carbonell. “I know a lot of the inmates consider them pets, but they aren’t really.”
Cats have been fixtures at the farm-turned-prison since the 1980s, sleeping in warm garages and nooks and crannies on the 22-building campus and keeping it mouse-free. The number fluctuated as the prison became a dumping ground for unwanted felines and they found their way under fences, into barns and into the hearts of inmates.
Caring for cats “teaches empathy, teaches responsibility, teaches compassion and it’s a great educational tool”, said Sue Skaskiw, director of Vermont Volunteer Services for Animals Humane Society. “These women have taken on these animals. To take them away is unnecessary and insensitive to their situation.”
Inmate Susan Margiotti, 47, says the cats make her feel better.
“When I was depressed or something I’d go out and spend time with them,” she said. “I could go outside and yell to the cats and they’d come running to me, just like a dog.”
But the cats are not universally popular with all the inmates - they have caused problems, too
Inmates have been scratched and some are allergic to cats or just don’t like them. Recently, an inmate used a cigarette lighter to burn the fur off one. That cat has since recovered and is now living with a staff member.
“They see the benefits. They see the therapeutic part of the animals. But they don’t ever see the cost or they don’t ever see what happens when things go wrong,” said correctional officer Mark McGuire.
Carbonell said the cats are inconsistent with the mission of the facility, which is to help the women shake their addictions, learn to control their tempers and get educations.
About a month ago, the prison started giving away the cats, first making sure they were spayed or neutered with up-to-date vaccinations. About six have already found homes.
One cat placed with a staff member a few weeks ago disappeared the first time it was let out, McGuire said.
“Some don’t realise that these cats are nearly feral and you need to keep them in the house for the first six weeks or so,” he said.
Outrage as rail company kills cat colony
ANIMAL LOVERS from Ireland have slammed the decision by Iarnród Éireann’s (Irish Rail) to destroy a colony of beloved cats from the soon to be redeveloped Ceannt Station in Galway.
A County Sligo-based extermination company captured the cats around two weeks ago - and the Galway Society for Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (GSPCA) believes they were later destroyed.
As Iarnród Éireann plans the 1 billion euros redevelopment of Ceannt Station, the decision to kill the cat colony has outraged and broken the hearts of animal rights activists, members of the public and even staff at the station, who had cared for the cats since they were kittens.
In a statement released last week, the GSPCA slammed claims that they were complicit in the destruction of the animals.
The statement read: “The GSPCA wish to inform the members of the public that we were in no way involved with the removal of a cat family that was living in Ceannt Station.
“Over the last few days members of the public have contacted us complaining that they were informed by management at Ceannt Station that we knew about the destruction of this family, which is not true.
“We were contacted about two weeks ago by them [Ceannt Station management] regarding the cat family; our advice, as is always the case, was to trap, neuter and release them back there again. They were not interested in that.”
“From what we have gathered, they brought in exterminators from Sligo who trapped and then destroyed this family. We only hope it was quick and humane.”
An official from Iarnród Éireann official said that the cats had become such a nuisance that staff were unwilling to clean the area under the station where they were living, so they had to be removed. The spokesperson also said that they had contacted the GSPCA twice about the cats but were told, “This is not our issue.”
“Health and safety had become a serious concern. A reputable pest control company was subsequently called and the cats were caged and taken,” the Iarnród Éireann spokesperson said. He, however, was unable to say whether the cats had been later killed.
The cats were fondly known throughout Galway. One member of staff at the bus station told Galway First that members of the public were constantly asking what happened to the kittens.
Margaret O’Sullivan from the GSPCA added: “These cats had been looked after by members of the public, staff at the station and in the hotel. They were a much-loved little family and the distress of the people who were looking after them is so sad.
“We ask all cat lovers and the people who looked after this little family, which included kittens, to call to our office and sign the petition, so this will never happen again.”
The GSPCA also challenged Ceannt Station management to explain what happened to the pigeons in the station - implying that they had suffered a similar fate at the hands of the exterminators.
The organisation is now starting a petition to ensure that this will never happen again.
Ms O’Sullivan commented: “As they have taken out this cat family another will come to replace it, and these need to be protected.”