The Cat in the Hat is a children's book in verse by Theodore Seuss Geisel (Dr. Seuss). It was first published in 1957. Although it uses an intentionally very limited vocabulary, it tells an engaging and entertaining story.
The title character and protagonist is a large talking cat, the size of an adult man, who walks on two legs, wears a large red and white striped hat and bow tie and carries an umbrella. The Cat arrives at the home of two bored children and attempts to entertain them, making a mess of their house in the process.
Over eleven million copies of The Cat in the Hat have been sold. It has been translated into over a dozen languages, including Latin and Yiddish. A movie based on the book was released in 2003.
The Cat has become the best known and most popular of Seuss's characters. Seuss wrote six more books that also feature the character; The Cat in the Hat Comes Back (1958), The Cat in the Hat Song Book (19670, The Cat's Quizzer (1976), I Can Read with My Eyes Shut (1978) and Daisy-Head Mayzie (first published in 1995, after Seuss's death). The Cat's image appears on the front cover of all Seuss books currently published in English.
The book was written in response to an article by John Hersey in the May 24, 1954 issue of Life magazine. In the article, Hersey bemoaned the quality of books used to teach reading in schools, complaining that they all told stories of children who were always well behaved and that the illustrations were dull. Hersey named Seuss as someone who produced children's books with exciting illustrations that could be purchased from bookstores.
Seuss's friend William Elsworth Spaulding, head of the educational department of the publishers Houghton Miffin, asked Seuss to write a book that young children with a limited vocabulary would enjoy reading at school. Seuss was asked to keep to a list of 348 words that six-year olds should know in writing the book. The Cat in the Hat uses a vocabulary of only 236 words, 221 of which have only one syllable.
At the time of writing the book, Seuss was under contract to Random House. Consequently, The Cat in the Hat was originally distributed to schools by Houghton Miffin but to bookstores by Random House.
The book is narrated by an unnamed boy. He and his sister Sally have been left at home one rainy day while their mother has gone out.
The Cat suddenly arrives and tries to entertain the children by using various objects in the house to perform tricks. The children's talking pet fish announces that it does not like what the Cat is doing and does not think that the Cat should be in the house.
A box containing two creatures, called Thing One and Thing Two, is brought into the house by the Cat. When the Cat opens the box, the Things cause further chaos by flying kites inside the house. Sally and her brother catch the Things in a net and force the Cat to behave himself.
To make up for the trouble he has caused and to prevent the children from getting into trouble, the Cat tidies up the house. He finishes cleaning up just before the children's mother returns home.
Sally and her brother are asked by their mother what they did while she was out. It is not revealed whether or not they tell their mother about the Cat in the Hat. The book ends with the question, "What would you do if your mother asked you?"
Recommended further reading
Children and parents who have enjoyed reading The Cat in the Hat may also enjoy Green Eggs and Ham.