+
upworthy
Pop Culture

Awesome Twitter thread explains the surprising origins of Dr. Seuss and 'The Cat in the Hat'

It all started back in 1954 with a national quest to understand “Why can't children read?”

dr. seuss, children's books
Wikipedia, @bpoppenheimer/Twitter

How exactly did Dr. Seuss come up with "Cat in the Hat?"

Dr. Seuss is one of the most enduring and endearing children’s books writers of all time. His work has been around for over sixty years, and while certain titles certainly fall short of today’s standards, kids continue to enjoy the unique use of wordplay, illustration style and abounding optimism of his beloved classics.

But how exactly did Dr. Seuss came up with such an impactful idea in the first place? That’s a story unto itself, and one that, much like his fictional works, still feels relevant today.

As explained in a Twitter thread by writer and research assistant Billy Oppenheimer, it all began when another award-winning author, John Hershey, started investigating the looming question of 1954: “Why can't children read?”

After two years of reading children's books, meeting with experts and observing how reading was taught in schools, Hershey ultimately came to a rather simple conclusion—children didn’t want to read, because children’s books were boring.

Even in an age pre-TikTok and Snapchat, reading had to “compete for the interest of children with television, radio, movies, comic books, magazines, and sports,” and children’s books by and large just weren’t entertaining enough to hold short attention spans in comparison to their instantly stimulating counterparts.

Henry would end up publishing his findings in an issue of “LIFE” Magazine, along with the call to action for writers to create something more compelling than what the current market provided. The article would be read by an editor at Houghton Mifflin, who would then challenge an illustrator friend of his to "Write me a story that first graders can't put down."

That illustrator was, you guessed it, Theodor Seuss Geisel.

Seuss has the added obstacle of only being able to write a story using a vocabulary list of 300 "accepted" words. So his strategy, as is with many brilliant creatives, was to just play around, combining different rhyming words until something resonated. Eventually the words “cat” and “hat” caught his attention…

…And in 1957, we’d have “The Cat in the Hat,” a blockbuster of a book that used 236 unique words, which Hershey himself hailed as a "masterpiece" and a "gift to the art of reading." It would also remain the book that Seuss was proudest of, "because [it] proved to a number of million kids that reading is not a disagreeable task.”

A lack of interest in reading, particularly reading for pleasure, is still a widely discussed topic among parents and educators. And much like in Dr. Seuss’ time, an overwhelming amount of competing tech-media is largely to blame. A 2021 survey from Common Sense Media revealed that in just two years after the pandemic (between 2019 and 2021) kids ages 8 to 18 increased their time on social media 17 percent, amounting to somewhere between a little more than five and half hours to just over eight and half hours a day.

We might not be able to grab even shorter attention spans with rhyming tales of Whoville, but we can still take a page from Dr. Seuss’ book by making reading seem more “interesting.” Perhaps it entails a wider selection of book titles, or joining forces with the power of social media to form communities like #BookTok to make reading still feel fresh and modern—these are two strategies that have already proven successful. Or perhaps it'll be something altogether different.

The solution might not be completely solidified, but like Dr. Seuss, we have to maintain a curious spirit and incorporate a sense of play in our approach. Keeping something fun is akin to keeping something alive more often than not. Take it from the guy who brought us Grinches and Loraxes and Whovians that still lift our spirits today.

Speaking of reading, if you care to check out Seuss’ biography, which Oppenhemier cited in his thread, you can find it here.

Education

12 books that people say are life-changing reads

Some books have the power to change how we see ourselves, the world, and each other.

Photo by Ben White on Unsplash

Books are powerful.

As a participant in the Amazon Associates affiliate program, Upworthy may earn proceeds from items purchased that are linked to this article, at no additional cost to you.

Out of all human inventions, books might just be the greatest. That may be a bold statement in the face of computers, the internet and the international space station, but none of those things would be possible without books. The written recording of human knowledge has allowed our advancements in learning to be passed on through generations, not to mention the capturing of human creativity in the form of longform storytelling.

Books have the power to change our lives on a fundamental level, shift our thinking, influence our beliefs, put us in touch with our feelings and help us understand ourselves and one another better.

That's why we asked Upworthy's audience to share a book that changed their life. Thousands of responses later, we have a list of inspiring reads that rose to the top.

Keep ReadingShow less
Joy

Bus driver comes to the rescue for boy who coudn't afford outfit for school's Pajamas Day

“It hurt me so bad…I wanted him to have a good day. No child should have to miss out on something as small as pajama day.”

Representative Image from Canva

One thoughtful act can completely turn someone's day around.

On the morning just before Valentine’s Day, school bus driver Larry Farrish Jr. noticed something amiss with Levi, one of his first grade passengers, on route to Engelhard Elementary, part of Jefferson County Public School (JCPS) in Louisville, Kentucky.

On any other day, the boy would greet Farrish with a smile and a wave. But today, nothing. Levi sat down by himself, eyes downcast, no shining grin to be seen. Farrish knew something was up, and decided to inquire.

With a “face full of tears,” as described on the JCPS website, Levi told Farrish that today was “Pajama Day” at school, but he didn’t have any pajamas to wear for the special occasion.
Keep ReadingShow less
Joy

Terrified, emaciated dog comes to life as volunteer sits with him for human connection

He tries making himself so small in the kennel until he realizes he's safe.

Terrified dog transforms after human sits with him.

There's something about dogs that makes people just want to cuddle them. They have some of the sweetest faces with big curious eyes that make them almost look cartoonish at times. But not all dogs get humans that want to snuggle up with them on cold nights; some dogs are neglected or abandoned. That's where animal shelters come in, and they work diligently to take care of any medical needs and find these animals loving homes.

Volunteers are essential to animal shelters running effectively to fill in the gaps employees may not have time for. Rocky Kanaka has been volunteering to sit with dogs to provide comfort. Recently he uploaded a video of an extremely emaciated Vizsla mix that was doing his best to make himself as small as possible in the corner of the kennel.

Kanaka immediately wanted to help him adjust so he would feel comfortable enough to eat and eventually get adopted. The dog appeared scared of his new location and had actually rubbed his nose raw from anxiety, but everything changed when Kanaka came along.

Keep ReadingShow less
via Imgur

Memories of testing like this gets people fired up.

It doesn't take much to cause everyone on the internet to go a little crazy, so it's not completely surprising that an incorrect answer on a child's math test is the latest event to get people fired up.

The test in question asked kids to solve "5 x 3" using repeated addition. Under this method, the correct answer is "5 groups of 3," not "3 groups of 5." The question is typical of Common Core but has many questioning this type of standardized testing and how it affects learning.

Keep ReadingShow less
Image from YouTube video.

An emotional and strong Matt Diaz.


Matt Diaz has worked extremely hard to lose 270 pounds over the past six years.

But his proudest moment came in March 2015 when he decided to film himself with his shirt off to prove an important point about body positivity and self-love.

Keep ReadingShow less
Joy

There are over 30 years between these amazing before-and-after photos.

"It's important for me for my photography to make people smile."

All photos by Chris Porsz/REX/Shutterstock.

Before and after photos separated by 30 years.


Chris Porsz was tired of studying sociology.

As a university student in the 1970s, he found the talk of economics and statistics completely mind-numbing. So instead, he says, he roamed the streets of his hometown of Peterborough, England, with a camera in hand, snapping pictures of the people he met and listening to their stories. To him, it was a far better way to understand the world.

He always looked for the most eccentric people he could find, anyone who stood out from the crowd. Sometimes he'd snap a single picture of that person and walk away. Other times he'd have lengthy conversations with these strangers.

Keep ReadingShow less