Sixty years since its publication in 1957, The Cat in the Hat remains one of Dr. Seuss’s most iconic books and a read-aloud staple—one that revolutionized the world of early readers. September 12 marks the 60 1/2 anniversary of the mischievous feline’s debut, and Random House is taking the opportunity to celebrate and reflect on Seuss’s legacy.
Cathy Goldsmith, president and publisher of Random House’s Beginner Books line and the Dr. Seuss publishing program, is the last of the publisher’s employees to have worked directly with Theodor Seuss Geisel, beginning in 1978. At the time, Goldsmith was a senior designer in the same department that she now heads. There was a bit of an intimidation factor for Goldsmith at the start. “I was 29 and he was in his early 70s. He was clearly the most famous and important person I’d ever met,” she recalled. “I would never dream of calling him ‘Ted.’ It gave rise to a certain awkwardness. No one at Random House called him ‘Mr. Geisel’ or ‘Dr. Seuss’—I didn’t know what to call him!”
But any awkwardness over names wore off as the two became close collaborators, producing six books together. Goldsmith worked alongside Geisel on his final book, Oh, the Places You’ll Go! (1990). The author-illustrator was ill at that time and could not leave his California home. “It was the first time he was unable to come to New York and deliver a book himself,” Goldsmith said. “Usually he would call to say, ‘I’m coming to New York,’ which meant he was bringing a book. During those visits, we’d gather in the conference room and he read aloud to everyone,” she explained. So Goldsmith traveled to California to help finish the project. “Ted’s wife Audrey insisted I stay with them at their house, so he could take breaks between working. I stayed with him for three or four days while we finished working on color for the book,” she said.
Geisel co-founded Beginner Books in 1958, along with his wife, Helen, and Phyllis Cerf, on the heels of the runaway success of The Cat in the Hat the year before. As president of the division, he took a hands-on approach, up until his death in 1991, approving books for acquisition and reviewing sketches for each title. His creative process continues to inform Goldsmith’s work. “Still to this day I find myself working with an illustrator and thinking to myself, ‘I learned that from Ted,’ ” she said. “I learned about color—his sense of color was like nobody else’s—and the placement of type on the page. And he was particular about layouts.”
In addition to his work ethic, Goldsmith was struck by Geisel’s respect for children. “The most important thing I took away was that he never talked down to children, nor did he want anyone else to. He thought they were quite clever little creatures. He wanted to intrigue them—to make them want to read and keep coming back to books,” she said. “He understood that we were making books for children, and if we were lucky they’d take their love of reading with them into adulthood.”
Sales for Seuss’s books have only grown with time. “We sell more Dr. Seuss books today than we did when he was alive,” Goldsmith stated. “The books stand the test of time.” To date, Random House has sold more than 16 million copies of The Cat in the Hat in multiple editions; annual sales average 500,000 copies. The book has been translated into Spanish, French, German, Dutch, Italian, Portuguese, Latin, Chinese, Japanese, Icelandic, Norwegian, Russian, Polish, Yiddish, Hebrew, Estonian, Serbian, and Greek.
A Cause for Celebration
According to Goldsmith, the concept for the 60 1/2 birthday emerged when the team was “talking about the kids whose birthdays are in July or August and can’t celebrate with friends.” The solution is often a half birthday celebration during the school year. “We liked the whimsy of the 60 1/2 concept and thought Ted would’ve liked it, too.”
To mark the occasion, Random House has created a free event kit for retailers and schools, featuring coloring and activity sheets, a poster, invitations, and party hats. “We want children and schools to have their own celebrations,” Goldsmith said. The publisher has also designed an educator kit, which it will promote on social media and on Seussville.com.
Susan Brandt, president of Dr. Seuss Enterprises, is confident that Seuss himself would have been pleased by the festivities. “We know Ted would be overjoyed by The Cat in the Hat’s enduring legacy, and tickled by this whimsical celebration of a book that he wrote to inspire children to learn to love to read. The Cat in the Hat’s impact has been extraordinary and we only wish Ted could be here to see it today. We are so pleased to see the ongoing support from retailers, schools, and libraries nationwide for this book, and the full Seuss library.”
Remarking on the enduring appeal of Seuss’s stories, Goldsmith said, “There’s always something unexpected, they’re not formulaic. You remember them quite vividly.” She frequently shares the books on school visits and finds that they hold up to multiple readings. “It’s hard to get bored with Seuss. He’s entertaining for the adult as well as the child.” Her one complaint: “Some are hard to read well—the tongue-twisters. I’m always happy when the kids don’t ask for those.”