Born Theodor Seuss Geisel on March 2, 1904, in Springfield, Massachusetts, Geisel started using the pseudonym “Seuss” during his time at Dartmouth when he was banned from editing and contributing to the campus’ humor magazine, Jack-O-Lantern. Geisel, after graduating from Dartmouth, attended Oxford thinking of becoming a professor, but left to start work as a cartoonist before eventually moving to work in Standard Oil’s advertising department for 15 years and contributing political cartoons to PM magazine.
During WWII, he served in Frank Capra’s Signal Corps making movies for the war effort and learning about animation. He created a series of animated training films staring Private Snafu. After the war, Geisel was asked to contribute the illustrations for Boners, a collection of children’s sayings, proving that he could make a living as an illustrator and cartoonist.
He wrote his first book, And to Think That I Saw It on Mulberry Street, while traveling on the ship M.S. Kungsholm where the thrum of the engines inspired the cadence of the rhymes. It took 27 rejections before Geisel found a publisher for his work, kickstarting his career writing his famous children’s books.
The Cat in the Hat
Published in 1957, Dr. Seuss tells the story of a brother and sister home alone on a rainy day. The children hear a bump heralding the arrival of the Cat in the Hat, who is an anthropomorphic cat wearing a red bowtie and a red and white striped hat proposing to entertain the children with his tricks. The pet fish, having more sense than the children, protests that the Cat should leave. In retaliation, the Cat balances the fish on the tip of an umbrella, continually adding difficulty by balancing on a ball with various other things balanced on his limbs.
When the Cat falls, the fish protests his presence again, but rather than listening, the Cat starts another game. Bringing in a large red box, the Cat releases Thing One and Thing Two, creating havoc and spreading disaster. The fish sees the children’s mother returning and warns the children. The Things are caught and the Cat helps with the mess by using a machine that cleans the house and puts everything he and the Things disturbed away. With everything back in its place, the Cat leaves just as the children’s mother arrives to find everything just as it was at the start of the story.
In 1957, an article published in Life magazine, “Why Do Students Bog Down on First R? A Local Committee Sheds Light on a National Problem: Reading,” questioned the effectiveness of school primers in teaching and encouraging children to read. Director of Houghton Mifflin’s education division, William Spaulding, challenged his friend Geisel to create a book that would keep children’s interest. Geisel wrote The Cat in the Hat, the first of the Beginner Books series, effectively changing the way children learn to read.
Other Cat in the Hat Books
Geisel published a sequel, The Cat in the Hat Comes Back, in 1958. This time, the Cat brings a Russian nesting-doll of miniature Cats to help clean up a pink ring staining the house. In 1964, The Cat in the Hat Beginner Book Dictionary, was published. A song book, The Cat in the Hat Songbook, was published in 1967. The Cat’s Quizzer, where the cat asks questions of the reader, was released in 1976. In 1978, I Can Read with My Eyes Shut!, was published.
Like many popular stories, The Cat in the Hat has been adapted into other forms of media. In 1971, a made for TV animated musical staring Allan Sherman as the Cat premiered on CBS. A live-action film with Mike Myers as the Cat was released in 2003. Two different animated features, one by Universal Pictures and Illumination Entertainment and the other by Warner Animation Group in partnership with Seuss Enterprises, have been announced. Seussical, a musical based on several of Geisel’s books with the Cat in the Hat as the narrator, opened in 2000. In 2009, the Royal National Theater adapted The Cat in the Hat to the stage. Universal Studios’ Islands of Adventure in Orlando, Florida is home to a Dr. Seuss themed land, including a Cat in the Hat ride. A Living Books adaptation for the PC was released in 1997.