Richard Scarry, Best Ever

Last week B. came home from a book event at work with a couple of bargains and treats; among them The Hairy Dieters’ book (from which we’ve been liberally sataying and schnitzeling), and a 10-title bumper-pack, Richard Scarry’s Best Collection Ever!

Two biggest data points ever about Richard Scarry: firstly, that I grew up with his books; learned to read with them, learned to draw and to think, to imagine and to joke; second, that my wife did too – and our being together was bumped along enormously well by the single simple moment at work when I made a passing mention of the flower ‘black-eyed Susan’ (nothing to do with our innovation or new flavouring programmes at the time, but an anecdote about obscure classroom refererences), and B. jumped right at it, with a cry of ‘Richard Scarry!’


Images of black-eyed Susans made it onto our wedding invitations.

Factoids: Richard Scarry, prolific children’s author and illustrator, born Boston, Mass, 1919; died Switzerland, 1994: in a list published in 1989 he was the author of eight of the top fifty best-selling hardcover children’s books of all time (a link to the NY Times obituary is here).

The carry-handled Scarry-fest that B. brought into the house, it should be said, was not a total ‘oh-my-god-I-haven’t-seen-these-for-years’ affair, for both of us have placed onto shared shelves throughout the home the originals from our childhoods, with occasionally more added as retrieved from eaves and lofts – some (ebay or US-trip) finds later across the years. But it was a force of focus. Within the 10-book collection is the Richard Scarry Mothership, his Best Word Book Ever.

B.'s childhood copy. This edition 1975.

B.’s childhood copy. This edition 1975.

This once quite massive tome (published in Britain ’63 and ’64),  – the wall of an under-table fortress even – was the thing I poured over as a pre-school kid. Laying on the back-room carpet, mouth-breathing and fixated, light-headed from the twin brilliance of exactitude and the exotic.

In the former, Richard Scarry’s illustrations are my illustrator’s ‘in’ – the simple precision of the most helpful, often detached perspective; the inter-relation of two or three points on a background of white and nothing; the busy or luxurious spacings of a page; cartoonly technical anatomies of egg-beaters, bulldozers, hockey sticks and drums. The rabbits are pretty; bears exude goodness – and funnily the pigs aren’t averse to some bacon.

In the latter, the exotic of the still-new world of America. Child-me, absorbing an appetite that will emerge forty years hence, sucks in the mystery of otherness – rye bread, maple syrup, waffle-iron, pickle barrel, pumpkins, sweetcorn and peanut butter. The pancakes and the cutlery and the too-thrilling, too-generous coffee pot, do not quite resemble our own. Real-estate agents drive station wagons.


‘He doesn’t eat the toaster’… I loved, loved, this snickering, friendly addition to the text.

See how my B. as a child has helpfully annotated the motor...

See how my B. as a child has helpfully annotated the motor…

Editions of his books have and do change across the decades (there are sites that showcase the differences and some socio-cultural tales therein) and there’s no doubt the edition I adored – and it’s my wife’s own childhood copy* I now refer to here on the kitchen table (while the big coffee pot gurgles on the stove) – was heavily anglicised; but the little foreign-to-me wonders remained in place enough to be transporting. Fall may offered up as Autumn, but there’s no getting away from the intrigue embedded on the page; of maize cobs, cider and bonfires – and the (to me) inexplicable turkey, inexplicably driving a car, and driving away from it all. My thanksgiving is that so much of his ‘native’ content and detail stayed put.

Cider and maize cobs and getaway turkeys...

Cider and maize cobs and getaway turkeys…

Having looked this weekend through the new book collection, I showed some favourite bits to B. In turn she flipped to hers – I knew and know; the tiny things collected and counted; the pea, the bead and the baby mouse – the same rascal mouse beneath the elephant’s beautiful bed. And B. stops on another page too, points to an apple that’s falling from a climber’s knapsack. And then to the fact that on the fabulous page spread of ‘Little Things’, among them is a ‘dot’ – a small black circle – hardly an object, a tangible, holdable thing – and says how this is why she loves Richard Scarry too. Expansive thinking, she proposes – that something as simple as the inclusion of a ‘dot’, sited right next to the bean, the safety pin, and the baby mouse – is evidence of such a clever and coaching talent – how it’s okay, it’s great, to think wide and long and otherwise – and brilliant, the best ever, to think so as a child.

all the Little Things - and the thinking of a dot.

all the Little Things – and the expansive thinking in a dot.


Richard Scarry monkey artist and art-college-me at 23. Not sure which is which.

Richard Scarry monkey artist and art-college-me at 23. Not sure which is which.

*Hamlyn, Twelfth impression, 1975 – all images respectfully used. Copyright Western Publishing Co. Inc. 1963.


About Stevie Mitchell

I come from a long line of cartoons and beer. I was once peed on by a tiger. Hoping the resultant super-powers are yet to come, cos if these are they, then, grrrr....
This entry was posted in Art, Family History and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to Richard Scarry, Best Ever

  1. Dan Rosenbluth says:

    Love Richard Scarry. Grew up on his stuff. Great post.

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