TTLG Author/Illustrator Profiles

Richard Scarry

Richard Scarry

American artist and writer, world's best-selling children's book author. Scarry wrote or illustrated over 300 books, selling over 300 million copies worldwide. Typical of Scarry's drawings is their emphasis on action and minute detail in depicting everyday activities. The accompanying text is usually limited to a description of the particular action taking place.

Richard Scarry was born in Boston. His father owned a store, and the family lived in comfortable circumstances, even during the Great Depression of the 1930s. Scarry was raised in the atmosphere of love, care and respect, which is reflected in his books. From 1939 to 1942 he studied art at Boston's Museum of Fine Arts School. He served in the army as an art director, editor, and writer of information publications in North Africa and Italy.

After the war Scarry worked in New York as a free-lance illustrator. In 1948 he married Patricia Murphy. His first book, Two Little Miners, was published in the popular Little Golden Book series in 1949. It was followed by five other children's books, published by Simon and Schuster in the same year.

In the 1950s Scarry illustrated and wrote for Little Golden Books. Several of his books were written by Kathryn Jackson and Patsy Scarry. Gradually his animal characters started to behave more like real people, and the drawing became much looser in style. In 1959 he moved with his family from Ridgefield, Connecticut, to Westport.

In 1963 Scarry made his breakthrough with Richard Scarry's Best World Book Ever. The large-format book, with more than 1 400 objects identified with labels, sold seven million copies in twelve years. In 1965 Richard Scarry's Busy, Busy World appeared, a detailed work of drawings and thirty-three stories set in different parts of the world. However, the book did not achieve as much success as Richard Scarry's Storybook Dictionary, which was published the next year. He also illustrated several books written by J.D. Bevington. Other writers included Jane Werner, Mary Reed, Edith Osswald, Peggy Parish, Jean Selligman, Levine Milton, Edward Lear, Ole Risom, Barbara Shook Hazen.

After twenty years with Golden Books, Scarry decided to move to Ramdom House. Its children's book list already included Dr. Seuss, the de Brunhoff Babar books, Stan and Jan Berenstain with their Berenstai Bear books, and Walter Farley, author of the Black Stallion novels.

In 1968 the Scarry family moved to Lausanne, Switzerland. His books, with their animal chraracters in ordinary settings without special ethnic traits, attracted young readers all over the world, and were translated into several languages, including Finnish, Chinese, and Lithuanian. Scarry's characters, Mr. Frumble, Huckle Cat, Mr. Fixit, Lowly Worm, and others, live in Busytown which is populated by friendly and helpful residents. When Absent-Minded Mr. Rabbit gets his feet stuck in cement, all of his friends try to get him out. Although Busytown is more realistic than Lewis Carroll's Wonderland, Scarry's vehicles have occasionally surrealistic elements, including Mr Frumble's pickle car, a car shaped like a doughnut, and a toothbrush mobile. Scarry used repeatedly his formula in which his books did not have a plot but offered bits of information in various spheres of knowledge, on school activities, cars and trucks, counting, animals, professions, etc. "Wherever I go," he was fond of saying, "I'm watching. Even on vacation when I'm in an airport or a railroad station, I look around, snap pictures and find out how people do things. Someday it will all show up in a book." (from The Busy, Busy World of Richard Sacrry by Walter Retan and Ole Risom, 1997)

In 1972 Scarry bought a chalet in Gstaad, where he founded his studio. He also travelled widely with his wife in Africa and the Far East, visiting places depicted in his Busy, Busy World. During the 1980s Scarry's eyesight became worse, but despite the problem he finished in 1985 the drawing for his Biggest Word Book Ever.

Richard Scarry died in his home in Gstaad on April 30, 1994. His son Richard has carried on the creative tradition. Scarry considered himself a fun-man disguised as an educator. "Everything has an educational value if you look for it. But it's the fun I want to get across." In the first book he illustrated for Artists and Writers, he painted in full color. By the time he created his first big book, Richard Scarry's Best World Book Ever, he had devised another method. He drew the lines with a pencil, and painted the blueboards in the colors, using a water-based paint. Scarry's favorite was Winsor & Newton Designers Colors. First he painted all the objects that were to be red, then the blue, and so on. It saved time and materials in preparation for printing.