Unless you live in Whoville, which is tucked in the mountains and doesn't get much news, you know that Dr. Seuss's The Cat in the Hat is a best-selling classic. First published in December, 1957, the book is a whisker more than a half-century old. By now, it's an icon as much as a funny story and one of the most-loved titles of all time.
You may know that Dr. Seuss's real name was Theodor Geisel. But bet you didn't know this: The Cat in the Hat could not be published today. Repeat: It couldn't make the cut.
Open it up and you're face-to-face with Rip Van Winkle in hardback. The cat, the kids, the mom, the fish. Even Thing One and Thing Two. The whole thing is a dinosaur between covers. And, well, if you've got 2013 sensibilities, it's darned offensive, too. Let's take a look.
For starters, anyone need a reminder on the basic premise here? Two little kids of maybe six or seven are being harassed by a large, threatening animal and its accomplices. Worse, the two have been left for an entire day without adult supervision. "Sally and I did not know what to say. Our mother was out of the house for the day." Get the cops. Bring in a social worker and quick.
"Something went BUMP!" complain the two kids. "How that bump made us jump!" I'm sorry to be the one to report this, but according to federal law, the Cat in the Hat's forced entry is nothing short of felony home invasion, punishable by a minimum of 15 years in prison (going by current sentencing guidelines).
If this isn't troubling enough, the book doesn't even try to represent ethnicities, sexual preferences, or family situations beyond its obviously Caucasian-owned upper-middle-class suburban home. Admittedly, Thing One and Thing Two have blue hair, but it's not clear that this adds much in the way of diversity as far as the book's characters are concerned.
Which reminds me: Since today's kids' books must be relevant, what's with the name "Sally"? I mean, who is Seuss kidding? When was the last time you met someone under the age of 30 named Sally or Betsy or Tom or Tim or -- for that matter -- Dick or Jane? Too modest, too simple. Too, well, cheery. I mean, maybe Ashleigh or Brianna could work here, but Sally? Get real.
And, come to think of it, what self-respecting kid would call his or her female parent "Mother"? It's exclusively a "Mom" world now, as anyone knows. Moms, I have to point out, go around in sweatsuits or jeans -- never, ever the stockings and dress shoes depicted in The Cat in the Hat's final illustration!
Want to talk pictures? The book's three-color art provides awful, outdated examples in almost every way. Why is that fish in a fishbowl? It needs a tank with a filter and aerator. Toys like a boat and a ball and a doll? Where are the electronic games? Milk doesn't come in a bottle -- it might break and cut you -- or tea in a teapot. That could spill and cause a burn.
In one of the book's big spreads we see a formal gown, a butterfly net, a phone with a cord, a handle-topped umbrella, a corn broom, a wind-up clock, and a Japanese fan. This stuff belongs in a museum. And by the end of The Cat in the Hat it is everywhere.
The objects may be old, but you can recognize and relate to this mess! It looks like your family room at home. At last, you think. A contemporary thing. But then it happens: the biggest mystery of all. Everyone is panicked, and -- thanks to the cat's red machine -- they clean up before Mom arrives home!
Dr. Seuss, we've seen enough. Your outmoded fantasies might have flown back in the '50s, but they won't fly now. Get with the program, read some of today's hot books, and maybe find a new literary agent. Oh, and one more thing:
Don't call us. We'll call you.
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Peter Mandel is an author of picture books for kids, including his read-aloud bestseller: Jackhammer Sam (Macmillan/Roaring Brook), and his newest about zoo animals passing on a very noisy sneeze: Zoo Ah-Choooo (Holiday House).