“I LOVE TO FILL MY BOOKS WITH DETAILS that can entertain and amuse a child for a long time,” Richard Scarry once said. “The more Scotch tape to hold the pages of a book together, the greater its success.”
By the Scotch-tape standard, or any other, Scarry’s books were hugely successful. When he died April 30 of a heart attack at 74 at a hospital near his home in Gstaad, Switzerland, more than 250 of his titles, including What Do People Do All Day?, Best Storybook Ever and Best Mother Goose Ever, were in print in 30 languages. Seven of the 50 top-selling juvenile books of all time were his creations, and earlier this year Showtime launched an animated series called The Busy World of Richard Scarry.
Busy was the right word. His pages hummed with activity that invited young eyes to roam, discovering the wonders of a peculiarly populated workaday world: apes drove banana-shaped cars, pigs cooked spaghetti, and Scarry’s personal favorite character, Lowly Worm, made frequent cameos in a trademark Tyrolean hat. “Half his books are storybooks and half are educational books,” said his only son, Richard Jr., 40, a children’s author himself under the name Huck Scarry. “But the educational books always try to get across information in an amusing way.”
A Boston native, Scarry was one of five children born to Barbara and John, a dry-goods store owner. “I used to call him Esquire, Esqy for short, because he dressed so well,” says his brother Jack, 76, a retired postal worker. Scarry studied at the Boston Museum School of Fine Arts and, after serving in World War II, began creating children’s books in 1946. His breakthrough came in 1963 with the Best Word Book Ever. Jack remembers visiting Richard and his wife, Patricia. “He’d say hello and then lock himself in a room to work,” he says. “Once he started a project nothing stopped him.”
Scarry’s last books, a pop-up series, were published in 1992. “It is a precious thing to be communicating to children, helping them discover the gift of language and thought,” Scarry said. “I’m happy to be doing it.”