Richard Scarry Did It Best

(NR Staff)

The work of this iconic American author has charmed generations of readers, and children continue to discover his books.

Dear Richard Scarry,

I hope you knew what a wonderful influence your books and stories had on generations of children. Worn, stained, beloved copies detailing Busytown’s daily doings (and adventures around the world) have been passed down from parents to children everywhere. In my house when I was growing up, your books were taped together, with missing pages and even a few torn leaves. My siblings and I knew to treat them carefully.

Did you have a favorite character? Was it Lowly Worm? He is woven through so many of the tales as the friend, the rescuer, the troublemaker, or sometimes all three! I recently learned that you had a Tyrolian hat you often wore, and that it was the inspiration for Lowly’s own feathered cap. Do you think he ever got tired of hopping around on one foot? Probably not, I think, since he always seemed to have his applecopter or appletractor at the ready. Poor Mr. Fixit is another favorite, as well as Huckle Cat and Sergeant Murphy — and dear Farmer Alfalfa. Your mice entranced me the most, as they were scattered around in nearly every story, each one on a mission with a clever expression on his face.

Busytown is small-town America in children’s books, in a way. But you also took readers on adventures around the world. There was Ah-Choo of Hong Kong, Pip Pip of London, and Hans the Dutch Plumber. I was always partial to Sneef, the best detective in Europe, but I also loved the slightly daft Professor Dig in Egypt, the Greek painters Glip and Glop, and poor Maria who had to be rescued from the Trevi fountain.

Your stories and pictures build upon each other so deftly, combining colors and amusing situations that never fail to capture a child’s attention and delight even adult readers to this day. Every detail mattered to you, from a sly look on a tiny mouse to the nails hammered into Santa’s sleigh. Characters are full of life and expression, and it’s a testament to your talent that a worm can look smug. You also never overwhelmed a page with art. It isn’t called “Busytown” for nothing, but you mastered the art of vignettes connecting a story, without giving the pages a comic-book feel.

It should’ve dawned on me much sooner, but the Alpine influence is strong, though subtle, in your pictures — not surprising, as you lived with your family in Switzerland for many years. The effect it had on your art is lovely, and I’m sure many readers never noticed all the Alpine housing styles and characters wearing lederhosen! The influence of the United States came first, though, rooted in your childhood in Boston and then many years living in Connecticut.

To this day, our family often references your book The Best Mistake Ever, chuckling over the naughty Lowly and the sweet treats he convinces Huckle to purchase. It was interesting to learn that your European tour in 1957 became the basis for your book Richard Scarry’s Busy Busy World (home to Ah-Choo, Professor Dig, and all the others). As much as I found comfort in Busytown, your world-traveling adventures would always capture my attention. And when I was little, What Do People Do All Day? enchanted me, especially the story of the ocean voyage. In simple, clear terms, that book explained all sorts of everyday life questions, from how a letter went through the mail to how a house was built, with labeled parts and funny characters running all around. Oh, and there also was Richard Scarry’s Storybook Dictionary, Richard Scarry’s Great Big Schoolhouse, and Richard Scarry’s Best Balloon Ride Ever. And of course, your Christmas collection is as full of joy and good cheer as anyone could wish.

Finally, I would like to express my deep love of one particular character — minor, but most dear: Bugdozer. How one small green bug could be so expressive is a wonder. He is a source of great delight in my life, and my family has given me various gifts in his likeness over the years, the pinnacle of which is a handmade Bugdozer business-card holder from my dad. A silly source of delight? Perhaps. But it is a small sign of the joy your work has brought to the world.

Thank you.

Sarah Schutte is the podcast manager for National Review and an associate editor for National Review magazine. Originally from Dayton, Ohio, she is a children’s literature aficionado and Mendelssohn 4 enthusiast.

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