Richard Scarry, who died on April 30 at 74, was one of the most popular authors in the world among people who don’t yet know what an author is. His hundreds of children’s books, translated into 28 different languages, have sold more than 100 million copies. Perhaps the best testament to his popularity is the typical state of a Richard Scarry book: taped and patched together because preschoolers can’t keep their hands off them.
Inside, the books are filled with intricate, comic scenes involving such anthropomorphic characters as Huckle Cat, Lowly Worm, and Mr. Paint Pig. ”I do the books to amuse myself,” Scarry once said. His first book as both author and illustrator was The Great Big Car and Truck Book, in 1951, but he didn’t have a commercial success until 1963 with Richard Scarry’s Best Word Book Ever. His books have been criticized for slapstick violence and sexual stereotyping, but that never hurt their popularity. His characters can also be seen on the Showtime animated TV series The Busy World of Richard Scarry.
Scarry’s own world was in Switzerland, where he suffered his fatal heart attack. He and his wife, children’s book author Patricia Scarry, and their son, Huck-who also writes for children-had moved from Connecticut to Gstaad 25 years ago on the spur of the moment. Like his books, Scarry’s life had more than a bit of whimsy.