500 Hats for 75 Years

In the beginning, Bartholomew Cubbins didn’t have 500 hats. And in the beginning, Dr. Seuss didn’t write in the rhymes children of all ages have come to expect. Occasionally, magician chants in his books presaged the rhymes to come. Seventy-five years ago, Dr. Seuss wrote The 500 Hats of Bartholomew Cubbins as his second book. Of course, this calls for a celebration and an anniversary edition. For more information about all of the “Hats Off to Dr. Seuss!” activities in 2013 and a full tour schedule, visit http://www.seussville.com/hats-off. There may be something coming near you.

In the spring children’s announcements issue of Publisher’s Weekly, Diane Stevenson of Clarion Books reminisces about the days before the 1970s when full color picture books were prohibitively expensive. They used a process called color separation. Though I have seen examples of this process in the de Grummond Children’s Literature Collection, it is beyond my ability to completely understand or explain it. The simplified version is that an artist made four overlays for a four color book and hoped the lineup and coloration would come out right in the printing. Color, even in picture books, was used sparingly in those days.  

The 500 Hats of Bartholomew Cubbins, first published in 1938, exemplifies how illustrators adapted to those restrictions. Today’s anniversary edition uses modern technology and is in full color, but the version my oldest son regularly requested as a read aloud was the old one in black, white, and shades of gray with red used only for the hats. In my opinion, it’s one of those “less is more” cases. The red hats coming off are striking against the black, white and gray.  

Rereading the book as I prepared to write this blog took me back to a two-year-old sitting on my lap echoing the “Flupp . . . Flupp . . . Flupp” as the hats came off. I loved the last line and have sometimes repeated it when it fit the conversation, “They could only say it just ‘happened to happen’ and was not very likely to happen again.”

Before that last “again” finished reverberating, Murray would say, “The end. Again,” and flip the book back to the first page, which leads me to my helpful hint for the day. If you’re buying a book for a child, get one the parent will still enjoy at Read Aloud #287. The 500 Hats qualifies.