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New York Public Library’s most checked-out books say a lot about what we read and why

And, surely it’s no coincidence that we Americans are drawn — from the youngest age — to tales of independent kids. The soporific observations of Dick and Jane appeared in the early 1930s, but the naughty adventure of “The Cat in the Hat” is No. 2 on the NYPL list. As the world knows, Dr. Seuss presents the tale of two siblings left alone by their trusting mother to “sit! sit! sit! sit!” in the house on a “cold, cold wet day.” Soon, a zany cat crashes in, announcing, “We can have lots of good fun that is funny!” How delightfully chaotic this book is, how packed with irresistible mischief. But its most subversive moment comes at the very end, after the house has been spotlessly restored and Mother returns to ask, “What did you do?” Suddenly, the boy narrator turns outward and confronts us with the first great ethical crisis of our reading experience: “Should we tell her about it?” he asks. “Well . . . what would YOU do if your mother asked YOU?”

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