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In Irish, his surname is pronounced /'s?ka:/, originating on the west coast of Ireland, but English-speakers often pronounce it "scary", and this is the pronunciation used in popular video and audio renditions of his books and stories.
Overview of his work
Scarry's most famous series of books was about Busytown. Scarry's characters were almost always anthropomorphicanimals. 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 dogs, cats, raccoons, bears, owls, goats, foxes, wolves, rabbits, lions, tigers, rats, pigs, mice, chipmunks, alligators, crocodiles, beavers, walruses, and others, he proved to be quite adept at giving human characteristics to a seemingly endless number of creatures. Many of his later illustrations feature characters in traditional Swiss clothing and show architecturally correct drawings of half-timber houses.
Scarry was closely associated with mass-market children's publisher Ole Risom, "the author and illustrator whose [collaborative] books have sold more than 100 million copies around the world. They worked together on dozens of books, including I Am a Bunny, which Risom wrote and Scarry illustrated. First published in 1963, it is still in print." Moreover, Risom and Walter Retan later cowrote the illustrated biography, The Busy, Busy World of Richard Scarry.
From 1976 to about 1978, Playskool produced a series of toy sets titled Richard Scarry's Puzzletown featuring plastic figures of Scarry characters and vehicles as well as cardboard scenery that the child could set up in a grid of grooves in a plastic base.
Changes made to reflect social values
A snapshot of Scarry's illustration style from the book, Busy, Busy Town.
Books by Richard Scarry changed over the course of their several editions, often to make them conform to changing social values.
His Best Word Book Ever, which first appeared in 1963, was issued in 1980 as a "new revised edition" which altered images and text to remove material which could be perceived as offensive due to gender, racial, or religious misconceptions. Characters in "cowboy" or "Indian" costumes were either removed or given nondescript clothing. Moral and religious elements and depictions of gender roles were altered or removed (for instance, a menorah was added into a Christmas scene, and the words "he comes promptly when he is called to breakfast", referring to a father bear, were changed to "he goes to the kitchen to eat his breakfast"). Characters engaged in activities reflecting traditional gender roles were altered so as to make the scenes more gender-neutral (e.g., a male character was added into a kitchen scene, a cowboy was replaced with a female gardener and a female scientist, the phrase "pretty stewardess" was changed to "flight attendant", and male characters engaged in traditionally masculine activities such as driving a steamroller were altered into female characters by the addition of hair ribbons or pink flowers, etc.). In some cases these changes necessitated removing whole sections altogether, including the "Out West" section, the "buildings" section (which had depicted a church, a cathedral, and a French Foreign Legion fortress), and sections on painting and music making.
Personal life and family
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, and The 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 a heart attack in Gstaad on April 30, 1994. His 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.
Scarry began his career in 1949 as an illustrator of books by other people, specifically Kathryn & Byron Jackson's Mouse's House. He continued as only or primarily an illustrator through 1955, then began turning out original books.
Many of these titles are preceded by his name ("Richard Scarry's ..."), and may be so listed in library and booksellers' databases. Some (including Pie Rats Ahoy! and Best Mistake Ever!) were published under the Beginner Books imprint, and others (The Early Bird, Funniest Storybook Ever, Busiest People Ever, Best Story Book Ever, Animal Nursery Tales, Storybook Dictionary, Biggest Word Book Ever!) as Bright and Early Books, although all are targeted at beginning readers. Scarry also illustrated a 1963 edition of The Fables of La Fontaine, and in 1993 put his own stamp on a series of familiar nursery stories (Little Red Riding Hood, The Little Red Hen, The Three Bears, The Three Little Pigs).
Stories made to video
Golden Book Videos:
The Gingerbread Man and Other Nursery Stories (Golden Book 1986)
Old MacDonald's Farm and Other Animal Tales (Golden Book 1986)
Get Ready for School (Golden Step Ahead 1986, 1991)
Random House Videos: (by 2006 these were taken out of print)