The Free-Range Cat in the Hat

Hey — quick, cool point, brought up by reader Rich Wilson: In The Cat in The Hat, which is hardly what you’d call subversive literature (oh, I’m sure some of you will, but let’s continue this point), the two tots are HOME ALONE! Mom has clearly gone out to shop, solo. And yet the book does not start with a disclaimer: “The sun did not shine, it was too wet to play/But never leave kids by themselves for the day!”

In the 2003 movie version, meanwhile, the kids were home with a (sleeping) babysitter. And the movie bombed.

That’s what happens when you tinker with a Free-Range classic.

38 Responses

  1. Either that or the movie just sucked. Or maybe parents didn’t feel comfortable with Mike Myers’ penchant for sexual innuendo in a kid’s movie.

  2. Dr. Seuss WAS subversive…. What kind of wacko encourages someone to eat green eggs and ham?!

    Blue…maybe. But Green eggs, surely this was a subversive reference to some deviant conspiracy. And ham? Is this an affront against the muslims of our world…again I tell you it is subversion! Why ham and not steak? Was this intended as a slight against those who cannot afford steak? What does THAT teach children.

    Ok…so I am just making this all up to yank on Lenore’s chain a bit. Hopefully this brought everyone a little humor for the day.

  3. Don’t forget “And to think that I saw it on Mulberry Street.” The poor kid has to walk home by himself on, like, the sidewalk.

    Of course, “And to think I saw out of the backseat window of my mom’s minivan on the way to soccer practice” doesn’t quite have the same ring to it.

  4. In the sequel, they’re also left home alone, and were outdoors, alone, shoveling snow.

  5. Wow. They WERE left home alone. With no Internet or satellite dish or cell phones! The horror!

  6. Due to my mom’s packrathood I’ve been reading my toddler some books that were mine as a child, and I’ve actually wondered if they’re still in print without editing because of similar issues. Anyone read Curious George Rides a Bike? George is left home alone, rides his bike without a helmet (including doing tricks), goes exploring beyond where he was supposed to, etc. Lots of dangerous ideas my daughter is picking up!

    Of course, George also lives alone with the Man in the Yellow Hat. I just hope they don’t try to fly British Airways together…

  7. Just saw your interview thingy on Angels and Urchins after posting my own rant about the bloody health and safety lobby in the UK (the first of many I am sure, as I am on an enforced medical leave to the UK from Kazakhstan with only one child instead of three in tow so have plenty of time to commit my snarly thoughts to the ether). Will enjoy exploring your site and some of your other comments!

  8. We have a re-published (with new illustrations) version of “The Eye Book”. Text is by Dr. Suess (Writing as Theo. LeSieg). I noticed that it has bike helmets, which were certainly not in the original. I also suspect that having “A Man” illustrated as an African American man was probably not in the original either.

  9. When I worked with in a public school with the kindergarteners and the teachers would read “The Cat in the Hat” they would actually add a disclaimer after the part where the mom leaves them alone and say “Now this isn’t real; of course a mom would never leave her kids alone.” It drove me absolutely bonkers for a variety of reasons but especially because they acted like the 6 foot tall bi-pedal talking cat wasn’t enough of a clue that the book was fantasy.

  10. In Farmer Boy (the true story written by Laura Ingalls Wilder in The Little House Series) the kids are left at home for a week every year while the parents go on vacation.

    http://www.amazon.com/Farmer-Little-House-Ingalls-Wilder/dp/0064400034

  11. The movie bombed because it horribly, horribly sucked. But good point about the kids being home alone in the book!

  12. Retro literature was free-range for sure, but have you noticed the shows on Nick Jr? Some are actually surprisingly free-range-ish.

    The Backyardigans are in their backyards having imaginary adventures unsupervised until snack time.

    Max and Ruby have no parents except for brief glimpses of them in a family portrait on the wall. Grandma lives down the street but that’s the nearest adult I’ve seen.

    Diego and Dora are both off exploring the jungle escorted only by their animal companions. Their parents only make cameo appearances. In the meantime, they are outrunning bears and puma or outwitting foxes.

    The Wonder Pets run around saving baby animals from various dangers. And the baby animal’s parents show up AFTER the Wonder Pets save the day to say, “Hey, thanks for saving my baby from certain disaster!”

    Not that my kids are allowed to watch TV. I would never…😉

  13. My Mum chucked us out the door after breakfast, we came back for lunch, got tossed out again and came back for dinner. In rural Australia, if you hung around the house for too long someone would find a job for you to do, so it was best to get as far away as possible. We tried to be at least out of range to be called in to do chores.🙂

    We were in the “bush” (rural outdoors) where there are:
    1. Snakes including the King Brown, nearly the deadliest one on the planet.
    2. Poisonous spiders
    3. Centipedes with a mean bite.
    4. Some highly poisonous plants.
    5. Deceptively deep waterholes.
    6. Huge biting ants
    7. Huge trees we climbed up.
    8. Kangaroos who could disembowel you if you got too close, emus that chased you if you went near their eggs etc.

    and where as kids we were
    8. Riding half-wild horses with no helmet, hey no saddle even, maybe with a bridle.
    9. My brother’s rode motorbikes (with helmets) through rough country.
    10. Rounding up the cattle for fun.
    11. Jumping horses over fallen tree logs 5 feet high.
    12. Catching inland crayfish in creeks.
    13. Saving sheep bogged in the mud.
    14. Safely lighting and putting out campfires to cook stuff.
    15. .Made our own toys with sharp tools.
    16. Set rabbit traps (feel bad about that now).
    17. Played with our dogs unsupervised.
    18. Stayed over at friends places for the weekend without police checks.
    19. Rode around the rough countryside in the back tray of the truck hanging on while it bounced across the paddocks.
    11. Brought up orphan animals including kangaroos.
    12. I could, and did, drive a tractor when I was a 7 year old girl.

    Just to get some perspective, these places were huge what most of you would call ‘ranches’ and by huge I mean 1 million acres (13,000 sq miles) and often to get medical help the Royal Flying Doctor Service would need to fly you 500 miles to a hospital.

  14. But we have the same helicopter parent thing happening here. It is ruining Australian kids. Aussie kids used to be as tough as nails, game as tigers and resourceful to a tee, but now…

  15. Anyone seen the updated Mother Goose edition? It’s highly sanitized.

  16. The Victorians started the sanitizing of kids books. If you look up fairy tales from earlier they are very different. So we are now sanitizing the already sanitized like over processed food – no real flavour left.

    viv in nz

  17. My boys, being boys, love the original, gory, Grimm’s fairy tales. I highly recommend them to anyone who has had it with Disney.

  18. I love reading the original Grimm & Anderson stories. I have found that the language is quite different from what my boys know so far. I’ve had to explain a few things. Hanzel and Gretel was interesting since not only were the kids running around on their own, but they had been officially “left out in the woods to die” by their parents.

  19. Yeah, and Snowhite had a jealous mother, not stepmother. I truly hate Disney endings, too. The Ugly Duckling didn’t meet his mum, the Little Mermaid did not marry the prince, the Tintoy Soldier was melted in the fireplace along with the ballerina, and so on, and so on.
    Oh, and I have yet to find the ending to Little Red Ridinghood my mum always told me: the wolf lies down after his meal, the hunter hears the cries coming from his tummy, so he opens up the sleeping wolf. Out come Little Red Ridinhood with granny. They fill the wolf up with rocks, and when he wakes up, he has an awful indigestion. So he walks to a creek to drink some water and drowns there when the weight from the rocks tip him over the edge and prevent him from resurfacing. Come to think of it, I don’t think that was the true ending, but I always thought it was an appropiate punishment.

  20. My boys love seeing old books and movies and pointing out what is different between now and then. We watched “Flight of the Navigator” last night, a movie that takes place in 1978 and 1986. My boys loved that:
    1) the two boys in the movie got to wander all over the moving station wagon
    2) the boys got to walk home from someone’s house through the woods, in the dark, alone
    and of course
    3) FIREWORKS!!!

  21. Another Little House reference — Laura and Mary are left home alone all day while their parents go to town shopping, when they’re about 7 and 8 years old. This was in the middle of winter, when the fire has to be kept going, and shortly after their family heard tell of a group of children who froze to death because they were left home alone and forgot to bring in enough wood before a storm hit. “Cat in the Hat” is pure fantasy, but the Little House books were reality-based — some details were changed, but the do reflect the way those families actually lived.

    Lola, FWIW, that ending of the Little Red Riding Hood story is actually the ending of a story called “The Wolf and the Kids,” wherein Mama Goat leaves her large family of kids home alone, the wolf comes and tricks them and eats them, Mama discovers the sleeping wolf, cuts out the kids, and fills him up with rocks so that he doesn’t immediately notice the weight loss, resulting in the same outcome for the wolf as you describe. But I think the “true” ending of Little Red Riding Hood is also a little more gruesome than what we’re used to, but I can’t recall it precisely either.

    And Cinderella’s stepmother and sisters were forced to wear red hot iron shoes and dance until they died.

  22. I always read Cat in the Hat as though the fish was a baby sitter.
    However in the Cat in the Hat comes back the mother leaves the kids shoveling 6 foot high snowdrifts while she goes to town.

  23. Yeah, well, my mum always mixed up her stories. Now I can’t remember what her ending to The Seven Kids was.
    Cool thing, that Cinderella ending. I thought they were just beheaded…

  24. Pentamom, there are so many variations and versions of fairy tales that there is no “true” or “real” ending to any of them. I’ve seen any number of versions of Red Riding Hood, some quite traditional, and any number of endings.

  25. “Anyone seen the updated Mother Goose edition? It’s highly sanitized.”

    Which updated Mother Goose is that? There are lots of them, and some of them are just as gruesome as ever.

  26. I recently checked out a couple of Cam Jansen mysteries for my kids (protagonists are 10, but reading level is a little lower, 2nd or 3rd grade). The first one we listened to was published in 2000, and I noticed something that I thought was probably different from the ones I read as a kid: she was with her parents the entire time. The other one was published in 1980, and sure enough, not a parent in sight in the whole book. And her friend, also 10, says he needs to get home to baby-sit his three younger siblings.

  27. True, Uly. I didn’t mean to suggest there’s “one right” ending. I guess what I was getting at was that there were commonly known endings around before there was a perceived need to sanitize things, and I tend to consider the deliberately sanitized ones as “not true” endings, even if there isn’t really “one true” ending.

  28. @ platypussmilez – so good to be reminded of the Down Under perspective. In the 70’s (when I was in high school) my family was involved with the American Field Service exchange-student program, so I had an Austrian “little sister” my senior year in school. Since I was the only kid in the family with a driver’s license I got to spend the year spending a lot of time taking her to AFS events and met kids from all over the world. My favorite was an Australian girl who was staying with a family over in the next school district. She had grown up on a sheep station on the edge of the Outback – what a nut! When she was 14 it was considered perfectly normal for her to get up on Saturday morning, do her chores, and then hitch-hike over 100 miles to the nearest pub, where she would hang out and drink beer for a few hours before hitchhiking home. At 14! We used to take Amelia over to Kansas, where at the time you could drink beer if you looked fairly close to 18, and watch her drink the local cowboys under the table. Of course, I wouldn’t recommend this kind of behavior for 17 year olds today (did I mention that we usually had shotguns and high-powered rifles in the gun rack of the pickup truck?) but it was large fun.

  29. Hi Jim,
    Well I never drank like that, but yes to the hitch-hiking. On the other hand now we have campaigns to try to combat underage drinking, but like everywhere, that’s going to have limited success.

    In another country town, where we lived about 10 miles out, when Mum’s old car was out of action and she couldn’t leave the babies to walk to town, and da used the other one to go to work miles away, I used to hitch in and out of town to get groceries. I was 12 years old. Once the local cop car picked me up walking out of town, and dropped me a half mile from home at the crossroads to walk home alone!

    Hitchhiking around Australia used to be a common way young people in Oz got to holiday around the country (for ppl who don’t know much about us, Australia is about the same size as USA but with 21 million ppl, the population of one of your cities!!!).

    However over the years, there were the inevitable assaults and murders, both of hitchers by serial killers and of drivers by thieves who pretended to be hitchers and now hitching is considered really risky. Which is a shame, because I always picked up hitchers, it was great way to meet strangers and have a chat (before we all got ipods in out cars.) But I wouldn’t want my kids to hitch-hike because I am now older and wiser, or maybe just more scared.

    About the girl drinking cowboys under the table, our beer back then (maybe even now) had a very high alcohol content, and low alcohol beer was unheard of. She probably thought she was drinking half beer/lemonade🙂🙂 : )

    All people in the outback (no guns in the cities) had a rifle in their truck and my brothers we dead-centre shots. They went hunting feral animals and ‘spotlighting’ rabbits. at 12 years old., on their own. Parents did not have the time nor inclination to watch over kids all day. I shot cans, I couldn’t kill things.

    My mum told me that on the huge cattle station she grew up on (she was a teetotaler all her life btw) there was a bounty on wild pigs. These are huge feral tuskers, very dangerous when riled. She said her brothers and her would saddle up the horses, get sawn-off shot-guns, ride full gallop after the boars and lean over in the saddle while chasing them at full speed and shoot the pig the back of the head. Then they would cut off the nose to claim the bounty. She would have been all of 9 or 10 years old.

    They also brought the piglets home and reared them as pets. Her Dad was not allowed to kill the pet pigs for meat and they used to ride on the back of one huge old sow.

    Sounds lie one of those fairy tales now.

  30. @Jim. My mum could still out-ride anyone today, at 73!

  31. @ platypussmiles – Thanks for sharing the memories; what a great way to grow up. When I was stationed in New London (Connecticut) in the late 70s I met some Australian Navy submarine sailors who were at the base to attend Mk-48 torpedo school. And I had thought American submarine sailors were crazy… that was a fun couple of weeks.

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