Thursday, February 22, 2018

Read with the CAT! Imagine That! How Dr. Seuss Wrote the Cat in the Hat by Judy Sierra

1954 was a great year to be a kid. There were 5 cent doughnuts and 1 cent lollipops. Bookstores brimmed with books like Charlotte's Web, The Lord of the Rings, and Horton Hears a Who.

Except a lot of the kids those books were written for couldn't read them. Kids in first grade were having a hard time learning to read.

What could the problem be? Kids knew the answer. School readers were just plain boring.

A grown-up writer named John Hersey realized that the kids were right. And he knew just who might write the kind of books kids couldn't stop reading--

The funniest writer in the land....Dr. Seuss!

Theodor Seuss Geisel--Dr. Seuss--already had written some best-selling children's books, and he was intrigued by John Hersey's idea. He had fun coming up with his fanciful characters and he loved making up silly words and funny names for them--like Ooblecks and Yergas and Whos. How hard could it be to write a short little book for first graders? He put on one of of his collection of funny writing hats and sat down at his desk, waiting for an inspiration.

But there was one big problem--THE OFFICIAL LIST.

The reading experts had a lengthy list of words that first graders were supposed to "master." They were not very inspiring words, nothing like the weird words he loved to put in his stories. Ted (as he preferred to be called) looked with dismay at the long, long, long list of rather dull words.

Dr. Seuss had writer's block.

Then he spotted the word CAT and the word HAT. "CAT rhymes with HAT, so I'll start with that," Ted thought.

But how could he work those ordinary Official Words into a story about this cat? Ted tossed some of the words around in his head and Whiz Bang! He had an idea! He would start with two bored and boring children, Dick and Sally, on a boring, rainy day, whose boring house is invaded by a Cat in the Hat who juggles, and the things he juggles would be those on the official word list--rake, cup, ball, book--even their fish goes up there in the air as the amazed (but no longer bored) kids stare. Sally is not sure the Cat can can keep all those things up as he jumps on a ball, and when they fall, oh, dear! Their goldfish comes down and lands in a pot.

He said,"Do I like this?

No! I do not!"

But the beginning readers of the land liked it, and they couldn't stop turning pages to find out what happens to the fish in the teapot and to the two kids whose mother they spot returning from the store to discover chaos indoors! The Cat in the Hat was a hit, and Ted, Dr. Seuss, soon followed it up with a series of beginner books, all built around The Official List, and all with the essential addition of Ted Geisel's rhythm, rhyme and sly and wry humor.

Author Judy Sierra, ably assisted by notable artist Kevin Hawkes, tells Ted's story well, and their Imagine That!: How Dr. Seuss Wrote The Cat in the Hat (Random House, 2017), (just in time for Dr. Seuss's annual birthday bash, Read Across America Day) celebrates Ted Geisel and the legion of other beginning reader authors who keep kids laughing, reading, and turning pages to this day. Geisel, who freely admitted that his trademark style of weirdly shaped animals and curious kids, houses, cars, and trees were done that way because he wasn't very good at realistic art, brought his fantastical characters and characteristic verse form to children's literature and his beginner books remain best sellers to this day. Author Sierra adds Ted Geisel's tips to young readers to "Write, Rewrite, Recycle Polish!" and appends a full list of his works up to the last published book. About this essential purchase for children's libraries, Kirkus Review says in their starred review, "Buoyantly told, rich in insights into the creative process as well as the crafts of writing, illustrating, and storytelling."

Labels: , , ,


Post a Comment

<< Home