Monday, March 5, 2007


From: An ode to a hatted cat (Chris Knight, National Post, March 5th, 2007)

In 1954, Life published a screed
That was based on the thesis, "Why Johnny Can't Read."
Its author, John Henry, called primers too prim,
Lacking interest and humour and vigour and vim.
And how best to combat books so antiseptic?
With poems tetramerous and anapestic!
The leading narrator of four-metre voice
Was Theodore Geisel, a.k.a. "Doktor Zoice."
(American speakers found German abstruse
And so they had always pronounced it as Seuss.)
On a dare he composed a brief tale, quite absurd,
With a vocab of just over 200 words.
It follows a young boy and his sister Sally
As a puss in a stovepipe bounds in from the alley
And causes much mayhem and brings them dismay
While their mother is out of the house for the day.
But all's well that ends well; Cat cleans up his mess
And is gone before mother gets back. (Did you guess?)
On a morning in March, 50 years back at that,
His opus was published: The Cat in the Hat.
(And authors said, "Why didn't we think of that?")
For the yarn was so simple, so cheeky yet fun
That for legions of boomers it ranked No. 1.
(And I'd argue to this day it's not been outdone.)
The result was a wave of ecstatic reviews
As The Cat in the Hat spread like wonderful news.
"The moppets' Milton!" That was Newsweek's opinion
As Cat made its way to some far-flung dominions.
It has since been translated to Hebrew, Chinese,
Dutch, Latin, Italian, Braille and Portuguese.
And the places it's gone! There's a sequel, you know
In which 26 more cats help clean up some snow.
The Cat's been on a stamp, and on TV revealed.
There's a bronze of him in Seuss's hometown, Springfield.
(There was even a movie; that's best left concealed.)
And though Seuss himself died 16 long years ago
The Cat in the Hat still makes young readers glow
With its fish and its kites and its things and its snow.
But the only sad note, and I wish it weren't so,
Is that never another such doctor we'll know.

Today we honour the memory of the man who singlehandedly destroyed the concept of plot in literature for young children.


Brit said...

So are you saying that Cat in the Hat is the Ulysses of children's literature?

Personally, I will not (would not, could not, should not) accept any criticism of the man who wrote the bona fide comic masterpiece Fox in Socks.

Peter Burnet said...


I couldn't possibly compete with your well-honed mastery of the art of defending self-indulgent blather as great literature, but I can tell you after three kids that it is extremely difficult today to find a book for young children that actually tells an interesting story. Lot's of well-illustrated stuff on the terrors of the toilet. Endless cutsy pseudo- self-help books on loneliness, mean people and feeling good about oneself. Wonderful poetry on how young terrorists foil their mothers' efforts to keep their rooms clean. Charming tales about misunderstood monsters we all end up wanting to hug when we understand the "real" them. But for actual stories you have to search through the yellowing stuff at the library.

Lord Grattan said...

Amen Peter! Amen!

erp said...

In reading to my grandchildren, I have to work at keeping my voice neutral because their books are full of PC blather.

Susan's Husband said...

What about Good Night, Monkey Boy?

I actually find quite a bit of stuff with stories and plots (although much simplified of course). For instance, the entire Thomas the Tank Engine series.

Peter Burnet said...

Who’s that eating a banana? Swinging from the shower curtain? Making faces in the mirror? Why, it looks like a monkey!

But not to Mommy. Mommy knows it’s her own monkey boy, and even monkey boys need their sleep. But first, they need to clean up their room and take a bath. Then she’ll read a story. “Good night, Monkey Boy . . . and no more bananas!”

That's your idea of a great story? SH, we have to talk.

Susan's Husband said...

None of that is in the book. Also, half the story is in the pictures, so the text alone is insufficient to appreciate the work.

What about Alice the Fairy then? (illustration)

Peter Burnet said...

If Alice the Fairy made any contribution to that little symbol of beauty, joy and hope, then all I can say is: Long Live Alice the Fairy!

Hey Skipper said...


Say what you will about Seuss destroying plot in literature.

His use of rhyme and expanding patterns of the words made his stories easy to memorize.

I was barely four when my mom first read me The Cat in the Hat; by begging for more I got her to read it often enough so that I memorized it.

Thereby allowing me to associate the words in my head with the symbols on the page.

Suess gave me the key; plot was completely beside the point.