by Rob Eckman
One of the most important books in the Dr. Seuss canon is “The Cat in the Hat.”
The literary and cultural influence of this little blue-and-red book cannot be overstated. As it happened, in 1955, a popular book by Rudolf Flesch called “Why Johnny Can’t Read” was turning a nationwide illiteracy problem into a national scandal. One of the apparent culprits was children’s school primers, which experts complained were filled with “abnormally courteous, unnaturally clean boys and girls.” They complained the books were “uniform, bland, idealized and terribly literal.”
A very good friend of Ted Geisel suggested that he write a book for six- and seven-year-olds who had already mastered the mechanics of reading. Armed with a list of 225 words (Ted was initially unhappy that the list did not include the words “queen” or “zoo”), Dr. Seuss spent two long years spinning the words into a book that would quickly transform the children’s book industry and revolutionize the way we learned to read.
Here are some fun facts about the words used in “The Cat in the Hat”:
-The story is 1,629 words long.
-It utilizes a vocabulary of only 236 distinct words, of which 54 occur once and 33 twice.
-Only a single word (“another”) has three syllables.
-14 words have two syllables.
-221 are monosyllabic.
-The longest words in the book are “something” and “playthings.”
Finally, to answer the question that I know is on all of your minds: where did Ted get the idea for the cat we all know and love? That tall, lanky bipedal feline with the striped stovepipe hat and crazy three-loop bow tie? Ted always said that the image was drawn from a funny-looking elevator operator at the Random House offices in New York. A small, stooped woman wearing “a leather half-glove and a secret smile.”
There you go!