The Oldest American Children’s Book Still in Print is About Cats

Caitlin Dempsey


A black ink line drawing of an old man standing before a hill teeming with cats.

In 1928, American artist and writer, Wanda Hazel Gág, published “Millions of Cats.” The illustrated children’s book tells the story of an elderly couple who, longing for a pet to keep them company, set out to find a cat. “If only we had a cat!” sighed the very old woman. The husband then sets off on a long journey to find “a sweet fluffy cat” to please his wife.

The quest brings the husband to a hillside teeming with an overwhelming abundance of felines. There he finds “Cats here, cats there, Cats and kittens everywhere, Hundreds of Cats, Thousands of Cats, Millions and billions and trillions of cats.”

As the husband attempts to choose the loveliest cat, he keeps finding different cats of different colors and textures that he each deems the “loveliest one.” The husband keeps selecting more and more cats to take home to his wife. He eventually takes all of the cats: “So it happened that every time the very old man looked up, he saw another cat which was so pretty he could not bear to Leave it, and before he knew it, he had chosen them all.”

After a long journey back, during which the cats drain a pond with their thirst, and strip a hillside of grass with their hunger, the husband arrives back to home to his startled wife, “What are you doing? I asked for one little cat and what do I see?—”

The couple decides that the cats should pick among themselves which one cat the couple should keep. Chaos ensues as a trillion cats each proclaim “I am the prettiest! I am!”. Fights among the cats break out and the elderly couple flees inside the house. Silence descends and the couple look back outside to see that not a single cat appears to remain. Morbidly, the wife declares, “I think they must have eaten each other all up.”

They then notice that one pitiful, scraggly little kitten remains in the grass. The elderly couple races outside to pick up the kitten. “Dear little kitty, how does it happen that you were not eaten up with all those hundreds and thousands and millions and billions and trillions of cats?” asks the husband. “Oh, I’m just a very homely little cats,” said the kitten, “So when you asked who was the prettiest, I didn’t say anything. So nobody bothered about me.”

The elderly couple then adopted the kitten, caring for the cat as it grew and eventually declaring it the most beautiful cat in the world.

Through her folk art black ink drawings and prose (hand lettered by her brother), Gág’s “Millions of Cat” is a lesson in the value of humility and acceptance. Page after page of illustrations brings to life a whimsical world populated by an endless array of charming cats.

At its core, “Millions of Cats” is a fable about the darkside of vanity and the value of being humble. The book won a Newbery Honor award in 1929. Only three other picture books have received this prestigious award, including Gág’s 1933 book, “ABC Bunny.”  “Honk The Moose” (1936) by Phil Stong (illustrated by Kurt Wiese), and William Steig’s “Doctor De Soto” (1982) are the other two pictures books that have received a Newberry Award.

“Millions of Cats” is now the oldest American children’s book still in print. In 2024, “Millions of Cats” entered the public domain. “Millions of Cats” stands as a timeless classic of feline fantasy, beloved by readers of all ages for its charm, universal themes, and enchanting artwork.


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Caitlin Dempsey
Caitlin Dempsey holds both a master's in Geography from UCLA and a Master of Library and Information Science. She is the editor of and an avid researcher of geography and feline topics. A lifelong cat owner, Caitlin currently has three rescued cats: an orange tabby, a gray tabby, and a black cat.