A FEW OTHER EVENTS FOR
- Happy birthday Pat Hutchins (The Wind Blew), Chris Van Allsburg (The Polar Express), Vivian Vande Velde (Heir Apparent), Connie Roop (Keep the Lights Burning, Abbie), Angela Johnson (Toning the Sweep).
- Itâ€™s the birth date of Pam Conrad (1947-1996), The Tub People.
- Itâ€™s World Juggling Day . Read Juggling by Elizabeth Dana Jaffe and Juggling Fire by Joanne Bell.
For many years, 2 Park Street in Boston served as the headquarters for Houghton Mifflin Publishers. In this Beacon Hill landmark, overlooking the Old Granary Burial Ground, a rickety brass elevator cage took employees up and down to their appointed floors, shuddering and whining as it did. This Otis elevator required the care of an operatorâ€”and for many years this operator was Mrs. Williams. During much of her tenure she served as the only black employee of the firmâ€”publishing in those days did not set minority hiring as a priority. However, if there were one thing all employees of Houghton Mifflin could agree upon, it would be their devotion to Mrs. Williams.
Every day she decorated the elevator with fresh flowers. She wore impeccably clean white gloves. She loved her work and always greeted us with a Cheshire cat smile and lots of information about who was in the building. â€śRoger Tory Peterson is with Mr. Olney today,â€ť she would say as you got in, often showing a book signed for her personally. Mrs. Williams was the glue that kept the company both informed and together.
One day in the early 1950s, she conveyed William Spaulding, head of the Houghton Mifflin Reading Division, to his office with his guest, an army buddy by the name of Theodore Geisel. That day Spaulding made the man we call â€śDr. Seussâ€ť an intriguing book offer. Wanting to outstrip his competitor, Scott Foresman, who published the bestselling Dick and Jane series, Spaulding believed there was another way to approach the teaching of reading. He told Seuss that if he could wed what he knewâ€”how to entertain childrenâ€”with what reading specialists believed, reading instruction in the United States could be revolutionized. Although Seuss admitted he didnâ€™t know anything about teaching reading, he did know a good story when he saw one. And the offerings about Dick, Jane, and Spot seemed inadequate as stories.
So Seuss rode down in the elevator again with Mrs. Williams. Working from a list of a few hundred words, Seuss always maintained that the resulting book was the toughest assignment he ever accepted. â€śIt was like trying to make strudel without any strudel.â€ť But he finally settled on two rhyming words, cat and hat, and began to doodle. Seuss always built his best books out of character, and as he sketched his cat, he remembered Mrs. Williams. Her white gloves. Her Cheshire cat smile. Her black skin.Â Slowly The Cat in the Hat took form under the pen of Dr. Seuss.
For Adopt a Shelter Cat month, you can do no better than read The Cat in the Hat, which features the most intriguing playmate in the world. He saves the day for two bored childrenâ€”and provides a lot of raucous entertainment. Anyone interested in more publishing history about this revolutionary book can find it recorded in Phil Nelâ€™s The Annotated Cat: Under the Hats of Seuss and His Cats.
Iâ€™m just sorry that I spent years riding with Mrs. Williams up to the fifth floor, never knowing that she had inspired one of the most beloved childrenâ€™s book characters of all times. So today Iâ€™d like to honor herâ€”one of the unsung heroines of the childrenâ€™s book world.
Hereâ€™s a page from The Cat in the Hat:
Originally posted June 18, 2011. Updated for .