Children’s books have been very much on my mind lately. My son and his wife are expecting twins, and the invitation to her baby shower urged everyone to give a book instead of a Hallmark card. What a great idea. As a librarian, a two-story English major (B.A. and M.A.), and a lifelong reader, I had already decided to shower them with books. My daughter, also a librarian/reader, was gift-wrapping books, too. Between us and the other shower guests, it’s clear the new parents are going to need a room-size bookcase before the girls arrive.
As a child, I wore out the sidewalks to the neighborhood bookmobile, and when I grew older, waited impatiently for the bus to beam me downtown to the mother ship, the Davenport Public Library. I still remember my friend Leslie being annoyed because I turned my pages so fast. From The Blueberry Pie Elf to The Black Stallion, I was insatiable; I could not get enough of the secret information in books.
I didn’t encounter The Cat in the Hat Comes Back until I had kids of my own. Years later, I find myself still heartened by its wisdom.
It’s all about mayhem. The Cat creates the mess of all messes, the Pink Spot Mess, when he eats a piece of cake with pink frosting in the bathtub. (Things like this happen a lot in Seuss Land.) It just gets worse, despoiling the house and everything in it, until the bilious pinkness is sprayed with a fan out onto the snow, which the kids have been instructed to shovel neatly while Mother sashays into town again. You’d think she would learn not to leave her children unattended, but what fun would that be?
Mr. Cat is untroubled when his cheerful efforts to erase the spot only make it worse. When he ruins Mother’s best dress by using it to rub off the pink tub ring, he fixes that crisis by whacking it onto the wall, which then becomes pink, but wait! It travels to Dad’s shoes, which are then wiped clean on the hall rug, which is tidied by smacking it against the bed. At this point, things are so bad, the kids are beside themselves. All seems lost.
But the oversized feline delinquent isn’t worried a bit. After a momentary lapse when he looks sadly at the bed (for it’s “NOT the right kind of bed”), he regains his pluck and reveals his secret weapons – a series of progressively smaller cats who emerge from under his hat, and then the next cat’s hat, and so on. He doesn’t mention that with their help, things are going to be elevated from crisis to all-out catastrophe. Do they rid the bed of the bed spot? Why yes, they do, but in doing so they transfer it to the broom, to the TV, to some milk in a pan, and from there out the window with the fan. And voila! The house is now clean.
However, the snow outside has now been dyed completely pink, and we get the impression that Mother is the kind of woman who not only wants her snow neatly off the sidewalks, but uniformly clean and white. Sally and her brother are definitely going to be grounded for, I’d say, 27 years.
But never fear! More cats are released, until we have Cats A through Z, although, as the kids note, “All this does is make MORE spots! Your cats are no good. Put them back in your hat!”
It is at this point that I begin to think, Isn’t life just like that? We try so hard, we call in our friends and family and coworkers – all of our peeps – we get very energetic and think up great schemes, and what do we end up with? One ugly big spot. But maybe, Seuss suggests, it’s supposed to happen this way.
Somehow, with his mad rhymes and galloping rhythms, he sweeps us up into both the folly and the joy of this great cleanup gone awry, and even as we’re covering our eyes, fearing what Mother will say when she sees this colossal pink disaster, we’re caught up in the crazy glee of giving up and giving in, saying, What the hell! If life is so bad, let’s make it REALLY bad.
At this point the cat, ever confident, says, “This is good. This is what they should do and I knew that they would. With a little help, all the work will be done.” It’s a moment loaded with import. Of course he has a solution, a magical something called “Voom” that eradicates the pinkness and leaves the house and the snow looking better than ever.
If I could, I would wrap a big box of Voom for my son’s new family. With two babies in the house, they might have some Pink Spot messes. But what I want to give them isn’t magic. What they need is something they already know. The real gift of The Cat in the Hat Comes Back is its revolutionary idea that, sometimes, things are supposed to get really bad. The trick is to refuse to despair, and if all else fails, gather your children and read them a good book.
So here’s my own addendum to the book, just for them:
You know what to do.
It’s in your good hearts.
It’s there in your brains.
You’ve got all the parts.
Just relax and review.
Listen up, take a look.
And if all else should fail,
Read your children a book!