Once upon a time, teachers used classics like Dick and Jane to teach literacy to students. Dick and Jane were revered at the time for their relatable stories and simple literary structure. D & J were living simple lives other children could understand, and the pacing of their stories was slow enough for even the most beginning readers. Dick and Jane worked. Sort of.
There was a problem with the D & J books. They weren't exciting. They lived normal lives, and their books progressed at a glacial pace. For many young children, the feeling was this: There's nowhere to go from here. Reading is just not that fun.
Dr. Seuss' Challenge
Theodor Seuss Geisel, who we know as Dr. Seuss, was working as a writer and illustrator in 1957 when he was contacted by Houghton Mifflin's textbook division. They asked him to create a book that "first graders can't put down." The publisher gave him a list of 348 words that could be used in the text, then gave him creative freedom to write about and illustrate whatever he wanted.
The end result was The Cat in the Hat. It took Dr. Seuss a full year to write The Cat, as he poured over every lovingly written word. Published in May 1957, The Cat in the Hat sold 2 million copies in the first four years.
Almost overnight, Dr. Seuss changed children's literature forever. The gleeful, unbridled chaos of the story was catchy, fun to read, appropriate for beginning readers and used many of the same words found in the Dick and Jane series. In later books, Dr. Seuss expanded his repertoire. His books taught moral lessons to children. They developed character. They expanded the imagination.
Publishers Weekly reports that The Cat has been translated to 18 languages and continues to sell at an average rate of 500,000 books annually. Even after all these years, Dr. Seuss books continue to sell more than books by other authors for readers age 3 to 8.
Happy Birthday, Dr. Seuss
You have given countless children a love of reading. You have opened doors to zany adventures and uncontrolled fun. Your books have heart and soul, and I am grateful to you for your contribution.
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