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One of the giants of modern children’s literature was born today. His colorful, bold and fun-loving world has been enjoyed by generations of children around the world. His bold line work and flattened color execution is the hallmark of his work. A perfect balance of writing and illustration makes Scarry the model for “kidlit”.
Scarry (June 5, 1919 – April 30, 1994) was a popular American children’s author and illustrator who published over 300 books with total sales of over 100 million units worldwide.
Scarry was born in Boston, Massachusetts, where his parents ran a shop. The Scarry family enjoyed a comfortable life even during the time of the Great Depression. Following high school graduation, Scarry enrolled in a business college but soon dropped out, finding it not to his liking. He then studied at the School of the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, where he remained until being drafted into the U.S. Army during World War II.
Following the war, Scarry worked for the art departments of various magazines before making a career breakthrough in 1949 with Little Golden Books.
Scarry’s most famous series of books was about Busytown. Scarry’s characters were almost always anthropomorphic animals. His books were popular with children throughout the world. Over 100 million copies of his books were sold, and they have been translated into dozens of languages.
While his books are largely populated by common animal species such as cats, rabbits, domestic pigs, and mice, he proved to be quite adept at giving human characteristics to a seemingly endless number of creatures. Beavers, raccoons, hippopotamuses, rhinoceroses, owls,bears, goats, elephants, foxes, gorillas, crocodiles, dogs, wolves, anteaters, hyenas, baboons, chickens, worms, and insects were just some of the other animals to be featured in Scarry’s works. Many of his later illustrations feature characters in traditional Swiss clothing and show architecturally correct drawings of half-timber houses. Examinations of drawings featuring mechanical devices, such as the rigging on a sailboat or a fighter jet, also show that they were drawn with accuracy.
In the 1980s and 1990s, many of his Best Ever series of books were converted into popular animated videos, which are available on DVD and VHS and also aired at times during TLC’s Ready Set Learn block between scheduled programs from 1995 to 2003 as some of the network’s Short Stuff breaks. Some of these animated films include Richard Scarry’s Best Silly Stories and Songs Videos Ever and The Busiest Firefighters Ever. The Busytown books were also adapted into an animated series, The Busy World of Richard Scarry, which ran on Showtime from 1993 to 1996 and later reran in the late 1990s on Nickelodeon and Noggin. A further animated series, Busytown Mysteries was commissioned by CBC Television from the Cookie Jar Group in 2007, and airs on the Kids’ CBC Block morning program. Busytown was also featured at the Carnegie Science Center from June 13 through September 8, 2002 in an interactive exhibit entitled “Richard Scarry’s Busytown.”
Titles reprinted since the death of Mr. Scarry in 1994 were significantly condensed from their original versions. For example, in “Best Word Book Ever” whole sections have been deleted: the section on painting was removed, as was the section on music making. The “Buildings” section was removed — it originally depicted a church, a cathedral, and a French Foreign Legion fortress. The “Out West” section removed as well. Other parts of the book were edited to show more women in the workplace and fewer cultural stereotypes. Examples in Best Word Book Ever include the Grocery section: in the old version, the grocer is a male bear — in the new version, the grocer is a female bear. In the Boats and Ships section, the old version showed a Native American in a canoe — in the new version, it shows a mouse in a pink sweater. In the “Work Machines” section, a male bulldozer operator became a female bulldozer operator with the addition of pink flowers on the sleeves. In the “When You Grow Up” section, a milkman becomes a female taxi driver. A Cowboy was replaced by a female gardener and a female scientist. A commuter-train conductor was replaced by a reporter and a female photographer. A soldier was replaced by a female judge and a small female cat.
Scarry’s wife, Patricia Murphy, was a writer of children’s textbooks who met Richard during collaboration when he was a textbook illustrator. She is credited with writing many of the stories in his subsequent children’s books, such as Good Night, Little Bear, The Bunny Book, andThe Fishing Cat.
In 1972 the Scarrys bought a chalet in Gstaad, Switzerland. Here he founded his studio where he spent most of the day (from about 8 a.m. to 4 p.m.) writing and illustrating his books. His studio contained a single desk, lamp and chair. His wife was told not to bother him except for his hour break for lunch.
Scarry died of myocardial infarction (heart attack) in Gstaad at age 74 in 1994. Scarry’s papers and drawings are in the collection of the University of Connecticut archives.
His son, Richard Scarry, Jr., is also an illustrator, sometimes working under the nickname Huck Scarry, sometimes working in his father’s style as Richard Scarry. Huck is the nickname of Huckle Cat, one of the most commonly recurring Busytown characters. Scarry Jr. lives in Vienna, Austria; socialites Olympia and Fiona Scarry are his daughters.