Living

Speaking Volumes: Twenty-five years after his death, he remains a beloved children’s author

Richard Scarry spent more than 40 years creating some of the most beloved children’s books of the 20th century.

On June 5, we celebrate his 100th birthday.

Over his career, Scarry wrote more than 300 children’s books that have been translated into dozens of languages and sold more than 150 million copies worldwide. He is best known for his “busy” style, in which he filled the page with detailed illustrations of various scenes meant to engage and entertain young readers.

Richard Scarry was born in 1919 in Boston. After high school, he attended business school, before quickly realizing this was not his calling.

In 1939, he began a program at the School of the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston. He left school in 1942 to serve in the Army during World War II. He was assigned to the Morale Services Section of Allied Forces, working in North Africa as an illustrator and writer.

Scarry had the important job of creating publications to boost war support and troop morale. He spent several years drawing maps and illustrating promotional signs for the military.

After the war, facing failure before finding success continued as a theme in Scarry’s life. An ill-fated job at Vogue magazine led Scarry to the passion that would change his career’s trajectory.

In 1947, he began illustrating books and worked for Little Golden Books. For many years, Scarry wrote original works such as “Rabbit and His Friends” and “Great Big Car and Truck Book.”

He also illustrated for many other Little Golden Books authors, such as his future wife, Patricia Murphy.

One of the titles Scarry illustrated was the 1955 “Smokey the Bear” by Jane Werner. Scarry’s depiction of the little bear cub in his iconic ranger’s hat helped to make Smokey a popular character among children and sparked the creation of additional books, coloring books, dolls and toys through the late 1950s and into the 1960s.

In 1963, Scarry’s career took off with the publication of “Richard Scarry’s Best Word Book Ever,” which became his first bestseller. The book’s busy pages, filled with numerous scenes of human-like animals, became known as Scarry’s iconic style.

He continued to publish new books and update his older books with new modern content for three decades. In 1994, an animated television show based on Richard Scarry’s many books, “The Busy World of Richard Scarry,” began airing to the delight of a generation of new fans.

Scarry died that same year, but his work continues to both educate and entertain children today.

Your Manatee County public library also has the entire “Busy World of Richard Scarry” television series available for free to patrons via the Hoopla app. The library also has a wide selection of Richard Scarry’s books for young children and beginning readers.

Call your local branch for more information on available titles.

Central Library — 941-748-5555;

Braden River — 941-727-6079;

Island — 941-778-6341;

Palmetto — 941-722-3333;

Rocky Bluff — 941-723-4821;

South Manatee — 941-755-3892.

You also can access the library via the internet at mymanatee.org/library.

Katie Fleck is a librarian at the Central Library in downtown Bradenton. Speaking Volumes, written by Manatee County Public Library System staff members, is published each Sunday in the Bradenton Herald.

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