Theodor Geisel, better known as Dr. Seuss, is arguably one of the most popular children's authors of all time. "The Cat in the Hat," one of his most famous works, is Geisel's response to a challenge from the Houghton Mifflin publishing company, which called on him to write a children's book containing no more than 225 "new reader" words.
In 1954, William Spaulding, the director of Houghton Mifflin's educational division, read an article in "Life" magazine that reported that children were beginning to lose their interest in reading. He contacted Theodor Geisel (Dr. Seuss), who had already published several children's books, including "And to Think That I Saw It On Mulberry Street," and challenged him to write a book that "first-graders can't put down." Dr. Seuss accepted the challenge, thinking that it would be easy to create a children's book with a word list of just over 200 words. However, it took him a little over a year and half to write and illustrate "The Cat in the Hat." It was finally published in 1957.
The story is narrated by Sally's unnamed older brother, but perhaps the main character in the book is the Cat in the Hat himself. Sally and her brother's mom appears in the beginning and at the end of the book, and they also have a worrisome pet goldfish, referred to only as Fish. The Cat in the Hat also brings along a couple of troublemakers known as Thing 1 and Thing 2.
Sally and her older brother are home alone after their mother leaves them for a bit. The children are bored because it's raining out, and they end up doing nothing but sit and stare out the window. The Cat in the Hat enters, performing "tricks" to amuse the kids and persuade them to have fun. The "tricks" escalate into more daring and dangerous stunts, creating a large mess. All the while, the goldfish is warning the children that their mother will return and they will be in trouble. Things get even more out of control when the Cat in the Hat brings Thing 1 and Thing 2 into the picture, creating an even bigger mess. However, shortly before the mother arrives, the older brother stands up to the Cat in the Hat and forces him to clean up the mess that he's made. The Cat in the Hat, with the help of Thing 1, Thing 2 and some peculiar machines, manages to clean the house before the mother returns home, and the children escape punishment.
While Dr. Seuss admitted that he didn't begin writing children's stories with morals in mind, his books do have a moral undercurrent. For instance, the older brother standing up to the Cat in the Hat could be seen as encouragement to children to stand up and do the right thing when the time comes. But the main lesson of "The Cat in the Hat," written in response to declining readership levels and reading enjoyment in children, is that sometimes you just need to have a little fun.
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