Every Seuss-o-phile must read Professor Philip Nel’s new book, The Annotated Cat: Under The Hats Of Seuss and His Cats. From Newsweek’s article, ‘236 Perfect Words‘, by Malcolm Jones:
Nel’s line-by-line annotations illuminate precisely how Seuss created his masterwork (Nel also includes annotation for “The Cat in the Hat Came Back,”). We are treated to rough sketches and first drafts. The antecedents (comics of all kinds, of course, but especially “The Katzenjammer Kids,” “Krazy Kat” and “Felix the Cat”. Nel even delves into the differences between the book and the animated cartoon of the same name made by Seuss and Chuck Jones. As delightful as the cartoon is, it offers a singular lesson in economy. The book, lacking music, lacking animation, lacking extra scenes and lines, is still better.
Whatever we make of “The Cat in the Hat,” we cannot call it an accident. Watching Seuss revise is a lesson any writer or artist could benefit from. When the cat says he knows some new tricks and offers to show them to Sally and Whatsisname, Seuss began by making him say, “I can show them to you.” He crossed out “can” and substituted “Let me.” Then he crossed that out and penciled in “I will.” Suddenly, the cat is in focus—and in command.
Showing us how Seuss worked—showing him assemble the cat line by line in ink and print—is the coolest gift this “Annotated Cat” could give us. Looking over the shoulder of a master (but a master of the unconventional and the subversive—Seuss, according to Nel, identified most strongly with his most mischievous characters: his license plate read GRINCH), we learn the true meaning of the words “It is fun to have fun, but you have to know how.” Boy, did he know how.
Professor Nel teaches at Kansas State University, and has authored a number of articles and books on children’s books. He is currently working on Crockett Johnson and Ruth Krauss: A Biography, the husband and wife duo, Johnson the creator of Harold and the Purple Crayon, and Krauss a celebrated children’s book author.
Nel manages several children’s book related websites, notably extensively linked pages on The Crockett Johnson Homepage, and Dr. Seuss On The Web. At KSU, Professor Nel teaches an undergraduate course on children’s literature, and an upper-level course on Dr. Seuss, where the curriculum includes Horton Hatches an Egg, Horton Hears A Who!, the Cat In The Hat, along with numerous other Seuss classics.