Missing, signed The Cat in the Hat by Dr. Seuss comes home to Victoria kids

The Cat in the Hat came back, but it took him almost 56 years.

A 1957 first-edition copy of The Cat in the Hat, signed by author Dr. Seuss and dedicated to the sick children at the Queen Alexandra Solarium, has found its way home after it went missing at least two decades ago.

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Metchosin family physician Dr. Robert O’Connor recently purchased the book at auction and promptly handed it back to the Children’s Health Foundation of Vancouver Island, which fundraises for the Queen Alexandra Centre for Children’s Health, successor to Queen Alexandra Solarium.

“I thought it would be a helpful thing for making children feel more at ease by recognizing something familiar in perhaps an unfamiliar place,” O’Connor told the hospital.

Dr. Seuss, whose full name was Theodor Seuss Geisel, was known for sending signed copies of his books to children’s hospitals, local bookseller Neil Williams told the foundation. He said the book O’Connor bought came from John Cole’s Bookshop in La Jolla, Calif., the author's hometown. The book likely made its way to the hospital in the late 1950s or early 1960s.

“Donations of children’s books by their authors are uncommon,” said Jessica Woollard, communications officer for the Children’s Health Foundation.

At some point — Woollard was not sure when — the hospital’s signed copy of The Cat in the Hat went missing. It doesn’t appear to have strayed far.

In 1992, Camilla Austin, who collects old books and antiques, came across the book at a rummage sale at Goward House activity centre for adults — about 500 metres down Arbutus Road from Queen Alexandra. The Cat in the Hat was one of a bunch of books she bought for 25 cents each.

Austin didn’t notice the book was autographed until 2002, when she picked it up to read to her three-year-old daughter, who receives care at Queen Alexandra.

She said that her family’s ongoing medical needs led her to put the book up for auction, where O’Connor purchased it for $550.

After hearing that O’Connor wanted to return the book to its original home, Kilshaw’s auction house waived its fees. Williams also waived his fee for verifying Dr. Seuss’s signature in the book.

The book is on permanent loan from O’Connor to the Queen Alexandra, where it is on display in a glass case — at children’s height — in the main entrance.

parrais@timescolonist.com

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