February 08, 2007


The Cat in the Hat Party Edition. By Dr. Seuss. Random House. $8.99.

The Annotated Cat: Under the Hats of Seuss and His Cats. Introduction and Annotations by Philip Nel. Random House. $30.

      Has it really been 50 years since Dr. Seuss’s The Cat in the Hat took the world of dull “early readers” by storm and single-handedly (or single-cattedly) changed the way books for young children are written? On the one hand, the book seems as fresh, offbeat, surrealistic and funny today as if it had been written only yesterday. On the other hand, it feels as if it has always been around, an integral part of American culture (and world culture, too). Theodor Geisel is one of the few authors of whom it can be said, “He changed everything.” And he did – a return to the days of Fun with Dick and Jane and similar books for young readers is utterly unthinkable now.

      The Cat in the Hat Party Edition is the latest reprint of the 1957 Random House original, and comes with a brightly shining hardcover binding. There isn’t much of a “party” about the book except for the title – this edition simply contains a “birthday card” postcard pre-addressed to the Cat and designed to help support literacy in local communities. That is a party piece for parents, not kids. But the book itself remains very much for children…oh, what the heck, and for parents, too, since today’s parents almost certainly knew it when they were kids, and today’s kids seem highly likely to pass it on to future generations. If your well-worn edition of The Cat in the Hat is a little too well-worn, the new edition is a good excuse to buy the book again. You can never have too much of this particular Cat.

      In fact, parents, there’s now a Cat in the Hat just for you: The Annotated Cat, which contains the complete Cat in the Hat and the entire sequel, The Cat in the Hat Comes Back – but which presents the books in a decidedly unchildlike way. This is really a book about where the Cat stands in history, how Dr. Seuss came to write the Cat tales, and how the art in the books fits in with Dr. Seuss’s adult-targeted drawings, from his ads for Flit insecticide to his anti-Hitler cartoons from World War II. Philip Nel has gathered a wealth of information here (some of it previously published in other Random House books about Dr. Seuss and his work). Nel is an associate professor of English at Kansas State University and the author of, among other things, a reader’s guide to the Harry Potter books (nice work if you can get it!). What readers of this book get is a great deal of perspective on the Cat books, such as a well-done discussion comparing the end of the first book (will the kids tell their mother what happened?) with the famous story “The Lady, or the Tiger?” – which Dr. Seuss once said was the best children’s book he had ever read. Nel’s prose tends to be a bit on the academic side, but it’s fun to follow the in and outs of the Cat books as he takes adults through them. One example: “An exclamation point appears only on the title page of The Cat in the Hat Comes Back, and not on the cover itself. Discrepancies between Seuss’s covers and title pages are rare but not unheard of.” And Nel gives examples. This is not a book that celebrates the sheer joy of the Seussian cats. It is a book for the adult joy of learning more about these much-loved books than you ever realized was there to learn.

No comments:

Post a Comment