F O L K L O R E
C H I L D R E N S' B O O K S
P O E T R Y
Emily Temple on the web site Literary Hub writes that Wanda Gág’s 1928 picture book Millions of Cats is the oldest American picture book still in print. It won the Newbery Award. Not the Caldecott, which seems more logical. The Caldecott Award hadn’t been created yet. The words of Millions of Cats are, of course, unforgettable.
I adored Millions of Cats. I first discovered the vast world of picture books when I was officially too old for them. I was ten, and my father took me, one evening each week, to the main children’s room of the Washington D.C. Central Library. He ordered me not to leave until he returned. The children’s room had long tables made especially for reading picture books, slanted downwards, with a ledge across the bottom to keep them from slipping off. I read my favorites from front to back, and from back to front, asking myself, “How did they ever make this book? What was the process exactly?” Millions of Cats was a favorite, partly because I could see the pen strokes, and the words were hand-lettered. I could aspire to make a book like this.
I don’t know how many weeks I pursued my study of picture books. I recall that no other child ever entered that vast room. It was all mine. From time to time a friendly librarian led me to the books for children my age, but I would just return to my spot at the slanted table. One librarian showed me how to use the card catalog so that I could find all the books by one illustrator.
I read Wanda Gág’s other picture books. I tried to like them but didn’t. Then I discovered her Grimm collections. I wondered why the Grimm stories in her books sounded better in my head than the ones in my Grimms’ Fairy Tales at home. The reason was that she had translated them herself, imbuing them with the same read-aloud magic she brought to Millions of Cats.
I am an author and folklorist based in Portland, Oregon.
Imagine That! How Dr. Seuss Wrote 'The Cat in the Hat"
(Random House, 2017). Illustrated by Kevin Hawkes.
*Starred reviews from Publishers' Weekly and Kirkus.
The Great Dictionary Caper, illustrated by Eric Comstock (Paula Wiseman Books, Simon & Schuster, 2018)
**Starred reviews from Publishers' Weekly, Kirkus, and Booklist.
Wild About Books, illustrated by Marc Brown. (Knopf Books for Young Readers, 2004). New York Times Bestseller, ALA Notable Book, and winner of the E.B. White Read-Aloud Award.