Pam Webb

a writer's journey as a reader

Archive for the tag “Cat in the Hat”

Debatables: Scariest Villain


Hi all, and welcome to Debatables, a new semi-regular column where literary questions of sometimes deep,

and often frivolous nature, are mulled over, pursued with flair, and debated in a spirited manner with commentary from readers.

My cohost and regular debate opponent is the personable Mike Allegra. Well-known for regaling humorous

tales of family, as well as encounters with home repair, his other talents include editor, doodler, and writer.

His newest chapter book series is under the pseudonym of Roy L. Hinuss, aka Prince Not-So Charming.

Mike is really, really funny. Check out his blog and you’ll see why.


On to Debatables:

Here are the ground rules: Each Debater is allowed one brief argument (fewer than 300 words) on a
previously agreed-upon topic. These brief arguments will then be followed by a briefer rebuttal (fewer than

150 words).

Today’s Topic: Who is the scariest villain found in juvenile literature?

Cricket is nominating Cruella de Vil from Dodie Smith’s classic 101 Dalmatians.

Mike is suggesting: The cat from Dr. Seuss’s The Cat in the Hat (haven’t we been here before?)

Mike’s Argument

Many of the most evil villains in history have one trait in common: they pretend to serve the best interests
of others. Hitler was elected on a promise to lift Germany out of its economic crisis. Lenin and Stalin
promised to give more power to the Working Man. And The Cat in the Hat promised an innocent boy and
girl a little fun on a rainy day.


What the Germans, Russians, and Seuss Kids ended up with, however, was far different than what they
were promised.


Yet The Cat in the Hat is sneakier than the other villains mentioned above, for he has a talent for charm and
charisma—personality traits he uses to mask his villainy. The Cat is so skilled in this regard that many
readers fail to notice (or are happy to overlook) this felonious feline’s evil acts!

(Mike says Sally is being clotheslined–not exactly pictured)

“Oh, The Cat isn’t that bad,” some might say. “After all, he did clean up the house at the end of the book.
Shouldn’t that count for something?”


No, it shouldn’t. And here’s why.

In only 64 pages, that cat racks up a long list of terrible deeds. He breaks into a home, destroys property,
abuses an animal, abets assault and battery (via The Things), and endangers the welfare of two children.


He does it all with a smile on his face.

And he gets off scott free!

The Cat’s cleaning machine might erase the physical damage he created—but consider the psychological
damage. The Cat’s amoral actions would terrorize any child—and would almost certainly result in lasting—
perhaps lifelong—repercussions. His victims could end up suffering from recurring nightmares, anxiety,
trust issues, and clinical depression. That’s a lot of damage, and The Cat doesn’t have a machine to clean
that mess up, does he?

Cricket’s Argument

While I am amewsed Mike chose the Cat from Dr. Seuss’s The Cat in the Hat,villains are a serious business
and dog gone it, selecting the scariest villain in juvenile literature leads to the one and only Cruella de Vil.

Before Disney catapulted her to fame as the diabolical dalmatian-kidnapper, Cruella de Vil held her own
in Dodie Smith’s 1956 story of Pongo and his attempts to save his fifteen puppies from becoming Cruella’s
newest fur coat. Right there, the fact that this woman wants to slaughter puppies to wear as a fashion
statement should make you twitter up a rage post.

Villains are aptly named. Dodie gave her readers a big hint: Cruella de Vil? A spin off of “cruel devil.”
Although Disney’s portrayal of Cruella is transfixing, Dodie defined her pretty well in the novel. Here are
the facts:

  • eats everything with pepper and tastes like pepper (found out when nipped by a puppy)

  • drowned dozens of her Persian’s kittens

  • her family home is called Hell Hall

  • her fireplace fires are as hot as (see above)

  • her house interior is prone towards red

  • she drives a zebra-striped car with the loudest horn in England

  • expelled from school for drinking ink

  • her London flat was originally purchased by Count De Ville, an alias for Dracula

Here is an extra tidbit: ranked 39th on the AFI list of villains

A megalomaniacal tyrant with a streak of narcissism, she is a cruel devil of a woman who even
contemplated skinning the kidnapped puppies alive. Double yikes! This scary villain has found her way
into all sorts of popular culture, from song lyrics to movie lines to Lady Gaga’s choice costume. Puppy
stealer, kitten drowner, pepper eater, and related to Dracula–this is a way scary villain. Plus she is a terrible
driver. Lock up your puppies and stay off the roads if she is about.

Look at this illustration from the novel. Yikes!  

Check out this song:

https://youtu.be/R-YkJdYQzis

Mike’s Rebuttal

Cruella is evil. Very much so. But she wears her evil like a badge of honor, advertising it to everyone. Her
very existence is a harsh warning to stay away.


Now, if I may quote Kaiser Sose, “The greatest trick the devil ever pulled was convincing the world he
didn’t exist.”


The Cat is the devil we didn’t know existed. He can hide his evil behind false innocence and a perceived
eagerness to please. This is the M.O. of the most effective predators: the fellow in the park “looking for his
lost dog,” or the friendly stranger who kindly offers “to give you a lift home.”  


The Cat is cut from a similar cloth. Once he wins over his audience with a smile and a tip of his hat, he
becomes an agent of chaos. And, like The Joker from The Dark Knight, The Cat delights in the horror he
creates.

Cricket’s Rebuttal

Mike implies Cruella wants people to stay away from her and that she advertises her evil like a
well-deserved medal. This assumption would mean she cares about what people think of her. Truthfully?
She could care l
ess what people think of her. Her actions indicate she doesn’t care about anybody except
herself. All the havoc she creates from personal insults to animal abuse is because she is self-centered with
a hateful regard towards others. Her devilish behavior doesn’t require an audience like Seuss’s Cat.
Cruella’s evil deeds are not beguiling antics that are mischievous or even ambiguous in their intent.
Cruella is all about villainous, malodorous mayhem. She doesn’t care who she hurts and doesn’t try to be
charming—she is and will always be Cruella, Cruella de Vil.
If she doesn’t scare you then no evil thing will.

Debatables:Worst Picture Book. Ever.


Debatables Round Two: The Worst Picture Book. Ever.

New to our blogosphere is the incredible Debatables, where my co-host and debate opponent, is the amazing Mike Allegra.
Mike Allegra is the author of Sarah Gives Thanks (Albert Whitman & Company, 2012), Everybody’s Favorite Book (Macmillan, 2018), and Scampers and the Scientific Method (Dawn, 2019). He also not-so secretly pens the Prince Not-So Charming chapter book series (Macmillan 2018-19, pen name: Roy L. Hinuss). He was the winner of the 2014 Highlights Fiction Contest and a recipient of an Individual Artist Fellowship from the New Jersey State Council for the Arts. He also juggles, plays the banjo, and is known to appreciate a well-crafted fart joke.

Over 12, 000 bloggers can’t be wrong, so if you aren’t following Mike’s blog, you are missing out. If you like to laugh, snicker, and outright guffaw, you will want to check out his blog.

Here are the Debatables ground rules:
Each Debater is allowed one brief argument (fewer than 300 words) on a previously agreed-upon topic. These brief arguments will then be followed by a briefer rebuttal (fewer than 150 words).

Today’s Topic: What is the worst picture book ever?

Disclaimer: The debate you are about to read is in absolute good fun. As children’s book writers we both understand the love and labor that goes into writing a book. Please no flames, comments of impending bodily harm, or allegations of shaming the writing community. This is a practice in word hurtling, nothing more.

Mike is suggesting:

love you forever cover

Cricket suggests:

cat hat cover

Cricket:

I like the idea of a critter who helps a sibling pair beat the rainy day boredom blues, but that inherent sensibility I possessed as a child followed me into adulthood. That uninvited cat who creates a multitude of mayhem scenarios makes me nervous. And that’s my gripe with Seuss’s cat: he is the Pied Piper of pandemonium.

First off, The Cat in the Hat breaks basic rules we teach our children: stranger danger (and that is one strange cat); running in the house; playing with breakables; let alone making a mess. This is all done under the guise of “let’s have fun!” Let’s add onto the list how the voice-of-reason pet fish is abused several times, and the cat stubbornly refuses to leave when asked more than once (quite firmly) to depart.

inside cathat

To add to the havoc the Cat releases the naughty Thing 1 and Thing 2. Are these thingsendangered exotic imports? Have they had their shots? Are they housebroken?

The reckless approach to busting boredom leaves poor Sally and her bro in a pickle as Mom approaches the house. They are not having fun. They are stressed out to the max. The only time the children smile is when they see the back of that cat. The real clincher are the ending lines:

Should we tell her about it?

Now, what SHOULD we do?

Well…

What would YOU do

If your mother asked YOU?

This is an invitation for children to be deceitful. Shocking, I know.  Such a playful question is really introducing children to be duplicitous. Just say “No” to cats in hats barging their way into households. Listen to the wisdom of goldfish.

Vote with me that The Cat in the Hat is the worst picture book for children. Ever.

Mike:

The mom in Seuss’s magnum opus is negligent, but at least she doesn’t remind me of The Story of Oedipus.

Love you Forever is about a mother’s lifelong devotion to her son. She sings of this love to her sleeping child when he is a baby and a young child—which is fine—and when he’s a teenager, which is less fine. She doesn’t just sing to him, she cradles the boy in her arms. We don’t see the cradling for the teenager scene; instead the illustration delivers something creepier: a young adult sleeping while his mother, wearing an expression of eager anticipation, crawls into his room on all fours.

all fours

But once the son grows up and moves out, such behavior must draw to a close, yes? Um. No. Refusing to accept this new chapter in her life, Mom grabs a ladder, drives across town, breaks into her son’s house (through a second floor window!), and cradles the sleeping adult male in her arms.

cradling

Scenes like this might have worked if the illustrations were less representational or more playful, but Sheila McGraw’s work is realistic and earnest. This elderly woman nuzzling her grown son is not a metaphor to illustrate the love between mother and child—it’s really happening. This woman really broke into her son’s house and really rocked him in her arms without his knowledge or consent.

Love You Forever is a world free of spouses. The adult son eventually has a daughter, but we never see this baby’s mother. The son’s father is also absent from the story. Where are these people? In the world of Robert Munsch’s picture book, it doesn’t matter. These significant others would only distract from the disturbing, single minded, nearly predatory mother/son bond at the story’s core.

Cricket’s Counterpoint:

While Love You Forever is creepy in its depiction of motherly devotion, it’s impact hasn’t prevailed for over fifty years like Geisel/Seuss’s creation. The Cat in the Hat is dangerous, not only as being an instigator of mayhem, but the fact is this bowtied cat is an industry, an institution of corrupting influence. Sequels, clothing, toys, teaching curriculum, movies, even designated days–this ubiquitous cat has influenced generations of children to ditch household norms under the guise of learning to read. Even Geisel, admitted in a 1983 article how The Cat in the Hat is a revolt against authority. Teaching our children to read at the cost of them totally abandoning all reason and opening their households to felonious felines is much too high a price to pay. Beware of hatted grimalkins in the guise as a reading muse. The campaign of awareness shall begin: #badcat.

Mike’s Counterpoint:

Yes, the Cat is an instrument of chaos, but TCINH’s hero (and audience surrogate) is the unnamed boy. This boy doesn’t invite The Cat in or encourage his “games.” Instead, he puts an end to the mayhem by capturing the Things and throwing The Cat out. These are good character traits (as is the “clean up after yourself” finale).

The Cat in the Hat, also did something very important, it buried the insipid Dick and Jane books once and for all. It showed that easy readers could be fun! And funny! And exciting!

Most importantly, TCITH was always written with kid readers in mind.

Love You Forever wasn’t written for kids. It was written for moms in order to affirm a subliminal hope that their babies can remain baby-like forever. This, as I’m sure you’ll agree, is an unhealthy conception of motherhood. Even a child knows that.

So, dear readers–what is your vote? Which brilliant argument convinced you? Let us know in the comments below. 

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