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Birth Stories of Some Kid Lit Classics

By Madeline Holler |

wild things, childrens books

Would you believe Maurice Sendak had his scary relatives in mind when he first drew the wild things?

A lot of favorite children’s books are such a part of our lives — such a fixture in our imaginations — that you kind of think the world has somehow always enjoyed them. That there never was a time when works like The Cat in the Hat and Where the Wild Things Are or The Lion, Witch and the Wardrobe didn’t exist.

But there was once a time when these books were only an idea in an author and illustrator’s mind. And what came before that was the idea’s inspiration.

The Atlantic via Flavorwire has a round-up of where the ideas for some of the most popular kids books came from — everything from Alice in Wonderland to Harry Potter. My favorite is how The Cat and the Hat came about:

Theodor Geisel (aka: Dr. Seuss), an already established writer, was inspired by a magazine article, boring books and the limits of, education experts believed, a child’s vocabulary. From the Atlantic:

… [A] 1954 article in Life magazine … bemoaned the fact that the terminally dull Dick-and-Jane-style books used in classrooms at the time were so boring that they were undermining attempts to teach kids to read. Already a reasonably successful writer, Geisel echoed the article’s concerns to William Ellsworth Spaulding, the director of publisher Houghton Mifflin’s education division. Spaulding responded by providing Geisel with a list of simple words that such books were designed to teach children, and challenged him to “bring back a book that children can’t put down.” The result was The Cat in the Hat. (Incidentally, the title arose from the fact that “cat” and “hat” were the only two words on Spaulding’s list that rhymed.)

He kind of nailed it, don’t you think?

Another fun discovery was the inspiration behind the monsters in Where the Wild Things Are. Maurice Sendak (who, incidentally, is still writing and drawing children’s books) apparently borrowed the looks of his scary relatives to get at the essence of the wild things. Also? He couldn’t draw horses so his original plan for Where the Wild Horses Are underwent a (lucky for us) necessary and drastic edit.

Read the other inspirations, which include possibly hallucinogens, children themselves and a whole lotta World War II.


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About Madeline Holler


Madeline Holler

Madeline Holler is a writer, journalist, and blogger. She has written for Babble since the site launched in 2006. Her writing has appeared in various other publications both online and in print, including Salon and True/Slant (now Forbes). A native of the Midwest, Madeline lives, writes, and parents in Southern California, where she's raising two daughters and a son. Read bio and latest posts → Read Madeline's latest posts →

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