Nov 132008
 

Dr. Seuss and the Beginner Books

Cat In The Hat First Edition Books Up until the mid-1950s, there was a degree of separation between illustrated educational books and illustrated picturebooks. That all changed, dramatically and with much national fanfare, with the 1957 publication of Dr. Seuss’s The Cat In The Hat (Random House). Here was an early reader, full of 220 madly rhyming words, which made its way into our elementary school classrooms.

The Cat In The Hat is a tremendously important book. Not just an important picturebook or an important children’s book, but an important book without any qualifiers! The publication of the book in 1957 forever changed the way in which children would learn to read and be educated. Reading COULD be fun!

The following table is an excerpt from the Children’s Picturebook Price Guide. The estimated values are for first edition books, with dust jackets. The Children’s Picturebook Price Guide explains in understandable terms the methods to correctly identify first edition Dr. Seuss books.


The Beginning of Beginner Books

Dr. Seuss First Edition Books The Cat In The Hat was published by Random House. However because of it’s success, an independent publishing company was formed, called Beginner Books. Theodor Seuss Geisel, aka Dr. Seuss, was the president and editor.

Beginner Books was chartered as a series of books oriented toward various stages of early reading development. The second book in the series was nearly as popular, The Cat In The Hat Comes Back, published in 1958.

Springing from this series of beginning readers were such standards as A Fly Went By (1958), Sam and the Firefly (1958), Green Eggs and Ham (1960), Go, Dog. Go! (1961), Hop On Pop (1963), and Fox in Socks (1965), each a monument in the picturebook industry, and also significant in the historical development of early readers. All are still in print and remain very popular over forty years after their initial publication.

Creators in the Beginner Book series were such luminaries as Jan & Stan Berenstain, P. D. Eastman, Roy McKie, and Helen Palmer (Mr. Geisel’s wife). The Beginner Books dominated the children’s picturebook market of the 1960’s, and still plays a significant role today within the phases of students’ reading development.


Before The Cat

Prior to the publication of his first children’s book in 1937, And To Think That I Saw It On Mulberry Street (Vanguard Press, 1937)), Theodor Seuss Geisel was a prominent and successful humorist illustrator for such magazines as Judge and Life.

By the time of The Cat In The Hat’s publication, Dr. Seuss was a very successful children’s book illustrator, having published twelve children’s books, three of which had won Caldecott Honor awards. Actually, prior to the publication of The Cat In The Hat, one could easily say that Dr. Seuss had already had two successful illustration careers, one as a humorist and one as a picturebook creator.


John Hersey and Dr. Seuss

Mr. Geisel created The Cat In The Hat in reaction to a Life Magazine article by Pulitzer Prize winning author John Hersey, published in the May 24, 1954 issue, titled “Why Do Students Bog Down On First R? A LOCAL COMMITTEE SHEDS LIGHT ON A NATIONAL PROBLEM: READING.” In the article, Hersey was critical of the then current state of school primers,

In the classroom boys and girls are confronted with books that have insipid illustrations depicting the slicked-up lives of other children. [Existing primers] feature abnormally courteous, unnaturally clean boys and girls.” “In bookstores, anyone can buy brighter, livelier books featuring strange and wonderful animals and children who behave naturally, i.e., sometimes misbehave. Given incentive from school boards, publishers could do as well with primers.

Hersey’s arguments were enumerated in some ten pages of Life Magazine, which was the leading periodical of its time. After detailing many issues contributing to the dilemma with student’s reading, toward the end of the article, Hersey redundantly asked:

Why should [school primers] not have pictures that widen rather than narrow the associative richness the children give to the words they illustrate—drawings like those of the wonderfully imaginative geniuses among children’s illustrators, Tenniel, Howard Pyle, “Dr. Seuss,” Walt Disney?

Geisel responded to this “challenge” by rigidly limiting himself to a small set of words from an elementary school vocabulary list, then crafted a story based upon two randomly selected words—cat and hat. The results of this personal challenge are nothing short of amazing!


After The Cat

First Edition Dr. Seuss BooksSuccessful before the publication of the The Cat In The Hat, after it’s publication, Dr. Seuss became an ‘overnight’ national phenomenon.

After the publication of The Cat In The Hat, numerous feature articles were published in Life, Look and other prominent periodicals. The book’s characters, along with other Seuss creations, were extended into toys and other products, occurring long before co-merchandising and line extensions became commonplace for children’s character marketing.


Values for the First Fifty Beginner Books

The values in the following table are for first edition books, with dust jackets. In most cases, the first edition book cannot be properly identified without the dust jacket.


The First Fifty Beginner Books
Series
Year
Title
VG+
Illustrator
Author
B-01 1957 The Cat In The Hat
$4,000
Dr. Seuss Dr. Seuss
B-02 1958 Cat In The Hat Comes Back
$300
Dr. Seuss Dr. Seuss
B-03 1958 A Fly Went By
$260
Fritz Siebel Mike McClintock
B-04 1958 The Big Jump & Other Stories
$180
Katherine Evans Benjamin Elkin
B-05 1958 A Big Ball Of String
$180
Marion Holland Marion Holland
B-06 1958 Sam And The Firefly
$260
P.D. Eastman P. D. Eastman
B-07 1959 You Will Go To The Moon
$60
Lee J. Ames Mae & Ira Freeman
B-08 1959 Cowboy Andy
$180
E. Raymond Kinstler Edna W. Chandler
B-09 1959 The Whales Go By
$180
Paul Galdone Fred Phleger
B-10 1959 Stop That Ball!
$180
Fritz Siebel Mike McClintock
B-11 1959 Bennett Cerf’s Book Of Laughs
$180
Carl Rose Bennett Cerf
B-12 1959 Ann Can Fly
$180
Robert Lopshire Fred Phleger
B-13 1960 One Fish, Two Fish, Red Fish, Blue Fish
$640
Dr. Seuss Dr. Seuss
B-14 1960 The King’s Wish & Other Stories
$120
Leonard Shortall Benjamin Elkin
B-15 1960 Bennett Cerf’s Book Of Riddles
$180
Roy McKié Bennett Cerf
B-16 1960 Green Eggs And Ham
$4,800
Dr. Seuss Dr. Seuss
B-17 1960 Put Me In The Zoo
$320
Robert Lopshire Robert Lopshire
B-18 1960 Are You My Mother?
$260
P.D. Eastman P. D. Eastman
B-19 1961 Ten Apples Up On Top!
$360
Roy McKié Theo LeSieg (Seuss)
B-20 1961 Go, Dog. Go!
$360
P.D. Eastman P. D. Eastman
B-21 1961 Little Black, A Pony
$120
James Schucker Robert Farley
B-22 1961 Look Out For Pirates
$120
H. B. (Herman) Vestal Iris Vinton
B-23 1961 Fish Out Of Water
$240
P.D. Eastman Helen Palmer
B-24 1961 Bennett Cerf’s More Riddles
$140
Roy McKié Bennett Cerf
B-25 1962 Robert The Rose Horse
$120
P.D. Eastman Joan Heilbroner
B-26 1962 I Was Kissed By A Seal At The Zoo
$120
Lynn (photos) Fayman Helen Palmer
B-27 1962 Snow
$140
Roy McKié P. D. Eastman
B-28 1962 The Big Honey Hunt
$240
Stan & Jan Berenstain Same
B-29 1963 Hop On Pop
$520
Dr. Seuss Dr. Seuss
B-30 1963 Dr. Seuss’s ABC
$520
Dr. Seuss Dr. Seuss
B-31 1963 Do You Know What I’m Going To Do Next Saturday?
$80
Lynn Fayman (photos) Helen Palmer
B-32 1963 Summer
$140
Roy McKié Alice Low
B-33 1963 Little Black Goes To The Circus
$120
James Schucker Walter Farley
B-34 1964 Bennett Cerf’s Book Of Animal Riddles
$120
Roy McKié Bennett Cerf
B-35 1964 Why I Built The Boogle House
$100
Lynn Fayman (photos) Helen Palmer
B-36 1964 The Bike Lesson
$160
Stan & Jan Berenstain Same
B-37 1964 How To Make Flibbers
$160
Robert Lopshire Robert Lopshire
B-38 1965 Fox In Socks
$260
Dr. Seuss Dr. Seuss
B-39 1965 The King, The Mice And The Cheese
$120
Eric Gurney Nancy Gurney
B-40 1965 I Wish That I Had Duck Feet
$500
B. Tobey Theo LeSieg (Seuss)
B-41 1966 The Bears’ Picnic
$160
Stan & Jan Berenstain Same
B-42 1966 Don And Donna Go To Bat
$160
B. Tobey Al Perkins
B-43 1966 You Will Live Under The Sea
$80
Ward Brackett Fred Phleger
B-44 1966 Come Over To My House
$320
Richard Erdoes Theo LeSieg (Seuss)
B-45 1967 Babar Loses His Crown
$140
Laurent de Brunhoff Laurent de Brunhoff
B-46 1967 The Bear Scouts
$140
Stan & Jan Berenstain Same
B-47 1967 The Digging-Est Dog
$100
Eric Gurney Al Perkins
B-48 1967 Travels Of Doctor Dolittle
$100
Philip Wende Al Perkins (adapted)
B-49 1968 Doctor Dolittle And The Pirates
$100
Philip Wende Al Perkins (adapted)
B-50 1968 Off To The Races
$100
Leo Summers Fred Phleger

Collecting First Edition Beginner Books

First printings of the each of Beginner Books published from 1957-to-1973 should be considered by children’s book collectors. Many collectors are on the lookout for the Dr. Seuss books, however there has not been as keen an interest in the non-Seuss Beginner Books. The non-Seuss books are relatively inexpensive in the market place, however locating first printings is difficult. Part of the difficulty is due to the uncertainty in the industry in identifying true first printings of the early Beginner Books. We are in the process of publishing identification information on our website, which will help to rectify this ongoing issue.

In 2001 Publisher’s Weekly created their lists of the All-Time Bestselling Children’s Books, for both hardcover and paperback books. We consider copies sold one of the key factors in the collectibility of a children’s book (when the initial printing is low relative to the eventual copies sold). Twenty of the Beginner Books made the list, with eleven in the All-Time Bestselling top 50. Several of the Beginner Books are from the ‘Bright and Early’ sub-series which was started in 1967.

Not surprisingly, Dr. Seuss books dominate the list, although all of the first printings are desirable. Some of the non-Seuss first printings are very difficult to come by, especially Are You My Mother?, Go, Dog, Go! and Put Me In The Zoo, each of which have out sold many of the Dr. Seuss books. You should also be on the lookout for first printings of a A Fly Went By and Book of Riddles.

 

The first twelve Beginner Books were published between 1957-to-1959 and should be on your ‘watch for’ list. First editions are easily identifiable, as all but Cat In The Hat state ‘First Printing’ on the copyright page. We’ve documented first edition identification points for Cat In The Hat on our blog.

Another key book in the series is Helen Palmer’s A Fish Out of Water, illustrated by P.D. Eastman. Palmer was Geisel’s wife, and wrote several of the early Beginner Books. However we think Dr.Seuss should be given co-authorship as we wrote in an article A Story Of Two Fish: Dr. Seuss Out Of Water, comparing A Fish Out Of Water to Seuss’s Gustav The Goldfish.


Identifying First Edition Beginner Books

Within the hobby, to our knowledge, a method for identifying first printings of Beginner Books has not yet been published. Soon we hope to resolve this absence.