Recently, I was at a mall I don’t usually frequent and having gotten lost trying to find a restaurant I was supposed to be at for a Christmas get-together, I chanced upon a secondhand bookstore. I went in to browse mindlessly, not looking for anything in particular.
I was at the children’s section and I was made aware of a thought and a feeling; like a gut instinct kicking in: that I was going to find something special. I didn’t know what, but a few minutes I later, I spotted a 1970 edition of a Richard Scarry book. Bingo!
When we were kids, my brother was given a large, hardbound copy of Richard Scarry’s Busy, Busy World.
Image source: http://rosanneparry.com/what-i-like-to-read/
It was a book about animals who lived in different parts of the world. I loved that book and often borrowed it from my brother to read and look at the pictures. Richard Scarry’s illustrations were rich and dynamic and his characters were so fun and quirky. I spent hours looking at the pictures more than reading what was written for the pictures told stories independent of the words written on the page. That was the only exposure I had to Richard Scarry’s work, but he’s made an impression and an impact on my own work as an illustrator ever since. Why do you think I often draw animals wearing clothes?
“Another positive aspect of the titles is his use of animals. While they are certainly cute, they also serve to be much more enjoyable and identifiable to children. One of the reasons his books have done so well throughout the world is the fact that animals do not have racial characteristics, which allow all children to connect with the little girl bunny or little boy cat. He explained “children can identify more closely with pictures of animals than they can with pictures of another child. They see an illustration of a blond girl or a dark-haired boy, who they know is somebody other than themselves, and competition creeps in. With imagination — and children all have marvelous imagination — they can easily identify with an anteater who is a painter or a goat who is an Indian.” (source)
Unfortunately, we don’t have a copy of my brother’s book anymore. Maybe it was misplaced or given away by mistake, but if I ever happen to chance upon a vintage edition of that book at a secondhand bookshop somewhere, you can be sure I’ll buy it right then and there (there are a few copies on eBay but they’re too expensive (one is $200+ USD!) and besides, part of the fun is coming across it randomly at a secondhand bookstore or at a neighbor’s garage sale). In the meantime, I have my P178 (around $4 USD) copy of Best Mother Goose Ever to ogle at and enjoy:
Part of the charm of the earlier editions of Richard Scarry’s books is that they were published at a time when political correctness wasn’t a thing. You can’t publish words like “go to London to buy me a wife” in a children’s book nowadays. In fact, some of his animal characters had to be revised in later editions to be more racially sensitive and to fit in with the changing times. In particular, I remember a pig character from an old edition of Busy, Busy World named Manuel from Mexico who had a large pot of beans on his head. Axed from the newer editions, I’m sure. (related: visual comparison of changes in a 1963 and 1991 edition of Richard Scarry’s The Best Word Book Ever)
Here’s to finding more vintage editions of Richard Scarry books!