Growing-Up with Richard Scarry

Huck Scarry, Gstaad, January 31, 2021

I am regularly asked what must it have been like to have children’s author Richard Scarry for a father ?

Well, I am an only-child. So, for me, my father was oftentimes something of a fun and funny big brother. My father loved to do things with me! He played soccer with me in a neighbouring field beside our house, he taught me how to sail, and among numerous other things, we shared a coin collection. What fun it was to go to the bank, put a one-dollar bill on the cashier’s counter, and to receive in exchange a paper-roll filled with no less than 100 pennies! At home, my father and I, armed with a magnifying-glass, worked our way through regiments of such penny-rolls, hoping to discover the Collector’s dream: that elusive and valuable “1909 VDB” US Penny coin.

It didn’t really matter what we did: just that we did it together.

Once, my father decided that we would take-up Archery. At the local sports shop, he bought a big bow for himself, and a smaller bow for me. He bought a target, and lots of gaily-coloured arrows. We practiced in that very convenient neighbouring field beside the house. But my father quickly grew impatient with the target. It seemingly would repel any arrow aimed at it! So, imp that my father could often be, he theatrically raised his bow to the zenith and let an arrow go! It went up all right… we witnessed that: but we never saw it come down again! It was only days later that we noticed a curious whisker-like thing protruding from the roof of a neighbouring house. Archery practice abruptly came to a halt.

Sometime later, my father thought it would be fun to try his hand at golfing. This time, I was deemed perhaps a bit too young to join him, but another illustrator, lovely Leonard Shortall, my “Uncle Leonard” would be his golfing buddy. Longshore Country Club lay in walking-distance from our house, and the beautifully-groomed course flanked a very large, and at low tide, rather a pungent and gooey tidal-swamp. Off went my father and Uncle Leonard with their new golf-clubs and golfballs! But alas, they were home again in no time. That tidal swamp appeared to have some secret magnetic force that lured all of their golfballs to sail into the inky, stinky black water. But that didn’t daunt my father. That evening, he equipped the two of us with several metal buckets, rubber boots, and flashlights. He checked the local tidal schedule, and at Low Tide, in the dark, in the funny stench, we scavenged for his lost golfballs!

This was tremendously exciting for me. And we were copiously rewarded for our effort! For my father was not the only golfer to have lost his golfballs to the Sirens of the swamp. We came home with buckets brimming with mud-covered balls! My father poured them all out on our doorstep, gave them a blast with the garden hose, and waited a moment for them to dry.

At the dining table, late in the evening, armed with a red nail-polish dispenser of my mother’s, he drew a beautiful big red dot on each ball. “This is mine!” he triumphantly exclaimed to each ball as he set it down carefully, with all the joy of a king, counting his jewels!

And what makes Richard Scarry’s books so well-loved?

That is less easy to answer. But I think it is a magical mix of several things: First of all, my father could draw wonderfully well. He had a lightness of touch which made his drawings look as though they were done “off-the-cuff”; on the spur of the moment. They always look as though they were drawn just the moment before you look at them, without any apparent effort.

And yet, my father designed his pages meticulously. Although his pages are busy, they are never cluttered. They may feel chaotic, but there is a happy order and a subtle harmony in it all. His work never feels heavy. His animal characters, who are all people, by the way , are all adorable and very, very funny.

My father was a funny man, and so, when he went out of the house, he saw funny things happening all the time around him!

My father also had the great intelligence not to lose the child within him. Although he was a responsible adult, he remained very child-like: he could get excited about the simplest of things, and his eye saw details that others wouldn’t notice. Hence, the freshness… the timelessness of his work.

Above all, Richard Scarry’s books are always fun. My father worked long, very long hours on his books. But one never feels that. He absolutely loved what he was doing.

And it is the joy of that love that we feel when we look at the books.

My father once gave wise words to a colleague: “If you’re not having fun with what you’re doing, then you’re doing something wrong.”

One response to “Growing-Up with Richard Scarry”

  1. Penny Dolan says:

    What a wonderfully cheering post to read and how nice to find the man himself was as funny and kindly and busy as his illustrations. Going through the pages of a Richard Scarry book, with kids or without, always made us feel better. Thank you, Huck Scarry!