The children’s picture book, Millions of Cats, by Wanda Gág, is still one of my all-time favorite books. There, I said it!
I have loved reading it aloud to my children, my niece and nephew, and my students, and making loud, screechy meows, hisses, and cries, when the cats devour each other. I love the zany craziness of the story and the sweet ending. And, of course, I love the illustrations, which are somehow both retro and avant garde.
Being such a fan, imagine how thrilled I was to discover, through a random conversation with a person I met in Minneapolis, that there was a museum in Minnesota devoted to the creator of Millions of Cats. That night, I looked up the info online and the next day I was able to visit the Wanda Gág House by special appointment.
The museum is in New Ulm, Minnesota, and is the restored home where Wanda, her six younger siblings, and her parents lived. All the members of the Gág family were artistic. The house, itself, which was built by Wanda’s father, is a work of art. Inside this home, the arts of drawing, painting, photography, singing, and writing flourished. Throughout the museum echoes of the art of this remarkable Bohemian family remain. You can see the beautiful hand stenciling painted by Wanda’s father and pieces of art by Wanda and her siblings.
Sadly, Wanda’s father died of tuberculosis when she was 15. Before he died he told her, “What Papa couldn’t do, Wanda will have to finish.” His words seemed to fuel Wanda’s desire to fulfill his dream – and her own. After years of determined hard work and education, Wanda became very successful, writing and illustrating various books and articles.
Millions of Cats holds the distinction of being the oldest American picture book still in print. It was also the first picture book to make use of a double-page spread, with pictures on both the right and left pages as you turn each page. This allows the pace of the story to move with greater speed and continuity. The words of the book were hand-lettered by Wanda’s brother. The book went on to become a Newbery Honor book. It is one of the few picture books to receive this recognition.
The Wanda Ga’g House is the fourth stop on Minnesota Trail Part Two!
Rebecca Blake Beech
These are a few of our favorite cats! Do you have a picture of a favorite cat you’d like to share?