CLOSE

12 Busy Facts About Richard Scarry

Chances are pretty good that you have a Richard Scarry book or two in your collection—more than 100 million of his books have been sold. In honor of what would have been his 97th birthday today, here are a few facts about the man behind Busytown.

1. HE DREW MAPS FOR THE ARMY.

After being drafted into the army during World War II, Scarry was assigned a job repairing radios. It didn't go well. He was relocated to a job that would make better use of his talents, and ended up spending several years drawing maps, illustrating propaganda, and creating promotional signs. When Captain Scarry was discharged, he went to New York to pursue a career as a commercial artist.

2. SCARRY GOT A JOB AT VOGUE—AND WAS PROMPTLY FIRED.

He quickly landed a dream job: a position in the art department at Vogue magazine. He was only there for two or three weeks before he told he was the "wrong fit" for the job and was let go.

3. IT WASN'T LONG BEFORE HE WAS DRAWING FOR LITTLE GOLDEN BOOKS.

The first was 1950's The Animals Merry Christmas, written by Kathryn Jackson, and it wouldn't be the last. Among the many titles Scarry illustrated for Little Golden Books was Jane Werner's Smokey the Bear, released in 1955. Scarry's depiction of the little cub in a ranger hat cemented Smokey's status as an icon.

4. HE COLLABORATED WITH WIFE PATSY SCARRY ON SEVERAL BOOKS.

Patricia Murphy was writing children's textbooks when she met Scarry. After they married, she used her talent for understanding how children read and learn to write several books for him under the name Patsy Scarry. Some of their joint titles include the Little Golden Books Good Night, Little Bear and The Bunny Book.

5. AT ONE POINT, EIGHT OF THE 50 BEST-SELLING CHILDREN'S BOOKS OF ALL TIME WERE RICHARD SCARRY BOOKS.

The New York Times reported that in 1989, a Publisher's Weekly list showed that eight of the top 50 best-selling hardcover books belonged to Scarry. This 1996 list ranks Richard Scarry's Best Word Book Ever at #18, with 3,798,953 copies sold. Richard Scarry's Best Mother Goose Ever followed at #38, I Am a Bunny at #41, and Richard Scarry's Best Storybook Ever at #46.

6. HIS BOOKS HAVE GONE THROUGH SUBTLE BUT SIGNIFICANT CHANGES OVER THE YEARS.

If you read Best Word Book Ever as a child, and have since purchased a new copy for your own children or grandchildren, keep your eyes peeled for some cultural changes. Stereotypical visual references to "Indians" were removed, both moms and dads are shown preparing meals in the kitchen, and males and females are shown doing jobs that defy dated gender roles. They also removed labels such as "beautiful screaming lady" (being rescued by a male firefighter) and "pretty stewardess." Alan Taylor discovered these differences (and many more) and has posted the before-and-afters.

7. THERE ARE MORE THAN 1400 OBJECTS IN RICHARD SCARRY'S BEST WORD BOOK EVER.

First released in 1963, the book is crammed with a staggering number of things for inquisitive children to discover. "Children like funny situations, detail and lots of action," Scarry once told an interviewer. "Nothing delights me more than to see a child reading a well-worn copy of one of my books held together with tape."

8. SCARRY'S FAMILY IS REPRESENTED IN HIS BOOKS.

The character "Huckle Cat" is named for Scarry's son, Richard Scarry Jr. The illustrator deemed his son "Huck" at a young age after deciding that he looked like "a real Huckleberry Finn." Huck's daughter, Olympia, says that she and her sister are also depicted in her grandfather's books.

9. HUCK SCARRY PICKED UP WHERE HIS FATHER LEFT OFF.

When he was just a teen, Huck helped his father illustrate scenes in the Busytown books, filling in colors for Cars, Trucks and Things That Go. Instead of coloring one scene at a time, their method was to color all of the reds in the entire book, then the yellows, then the oranges, and so on. Huck continued the Busytown series after Scarry passed away from a heart attack in 1994.

10. LOWLY WORM WASN'T SUPPOSED TO BE A STAR.

The little invertebrate wasn't intended to be a main character, but children absolutely loved him. “He was just a little thing kids could look for,” Huck Scarry told Niagara This Week in 2012. “But he started getting fan mail and drawings from kids.” Scarry gave the kids what they wanted: more Lowly.

11. A NEW LOWLY BOOK WAS RELEASED IN 2014.

Huck discovered sketches and an outline for a new book more than a decade after his father's death. Already well-versed in the Scarry style of illustration, Huck was able to complete The Best Lowly Worm Book, publishing it in 2014—and there could be more to come. "The University of Connecticut holds most of my father's original artwork, including sketches," he told Entertainment Weekly in 2013. "I am currently looking at whether there might be something complete which might be brought to a finished book. We'll see!"

12. GRANDDAUGHTER OLYMPIA SCARRY IS ALSO AN ARTIST.

Olympia Scarry has followed in the artistic footsteps of her father and grandfather, but on a slightly different path. Though she specializes in nature installations and performance art, Scarry doesn't entirely rule out illustrating children's books someday: "You never know, maybe I will. My father would love that."

nextArticle.image_alt|e
Photo illustration by Mental Floss. Bronte: Hulton Archive, Getty Images. Background: iStock
arrow
literature
10 Facts About Charlotte Brontë
Photo illustration by Mental Floss. Bronte: Hulton Archive, Getty Images. Background: iStock
Photo illustration by Mental Floss. Bronte: Hulton Archive, Getty Images. Background: iStock

Charlotte Brontë was born in England to an Irish father and Cornish mother on April 21, 1816. And though much of her life was marked by tragedy, she wrote novels and poems that found great success in her lifetime and are still popular nearly 200 years later. But there’s a lot more to Brontë than Jane Eyre.

1. BRONTË WAS JUST 5 YEARS OLD WHEN SHE LOST HER MOTHER.

Maria Branwell Brontë was 38 when she died in 1821 of ovarian cancer (or, it's been suggested, of a post-natal infection), leaving her husband, Patrick Brontë, and their six young children behind. In the years after Maria died, Patrick sent four of his daughters, including Charlotte, to a boarding school for the daughters of clergy members. Brontë later used her bad experiences at this school—it was a harsh, abusive environment—as inspiration for Lowood Institution in Jane Eyre. As an adult, Bronte mentioned her mother (who was also fond of writing) in a letter, saying: "I wish she had lived and that I had known her."

2. BRONTË HAD BEEN WRITING POETRY AND STORIES SINCE HER YOUTH.

Though one of her boarding school report cards described her abilities as "altogether clever for her age, but knows nothing systematically," Brontë was a voracious reader during her childhood and teen years, and she wrote stories and staged plays at home with her siblings. With her brother Branwell, especially, she wrote manuscripts, plays, and stories, drawing on literature, magazines, and the Bible for inspiration. For fun, they created magazines that contained everything a real magazine would have—from the essays, letters, and poems to the ads and notes from the editor.

3. SHE WORKED AS A TEACHER AND GOVERNESS BUT DISLIKED IT.

portrait of Charlotte Bronte
Charlotte Bronte circa 1840.
Portrait by Thompson. Photo by Rischgitz, Getty Images.

In her late teens and early twenties, Brontë worked on and off as a teacher and governess. In between writing, she taught at a schoolhouse but didn't like the long hours. She also didn't love working as a governess in a family home. Once, in a letter to a friend, she wrote, "I will only ask you to imagine the miseries of a reserved wretch like me, thrown at once into the midst of a large family … having the charge given me of a set of pampered, spoilt, and turbulent children, whom I was expected constantly to amuse as well as instruct." She quickly realized she wasn't a good fit for these caretaking jobs, but she later used her early work experiences as inspiration for passages in Jane Eyre.

4. BRONTË DEALT WITH A LOT OF LITERARY REJECTION.

When she was 20 years old, Brontë sent the English Poet Laureate Robert Southey some of her best poems. He wrote back in 1837, telling her that she obviously had a good deal of talent and a gift with words but that she should give up writing. "Literature cannot be the business of a woman's life, and it ought not to be. The more she is engaged in her proper duties, the less leisure will she have for it, even as an accomplishment and a recreation. To those duties you have not yet been called, and when you are you will be less eager for celebrity. You will not seek in imagination for excitement," Southey responded to her. The Professor, Brontë’s first novel, was rejected nine times before it was finally published after her death.

5. SHE USED THE MALE PSEUDONYM CURRER BELL.

English writers Anne, Emily and Charlotte Bronte.
English writers Anne, Emily, and Charlotte Bronte circa 1834, as painted by their brother.
Painting by Patrick Branwell Bronte. Photo by Rischgitz, Getty Images.

In 1846, Brontë paid to publish a book of poetry containing poems she and her sisters Emily and Anne had written. The three sisters used male pseudonyms—Charlotte was Currer Bell, Emily was Ellis Bell, and Anne was Acton Bell. (The book sold two copies.) Brontë also used the Currer Bell pseudonym when she published Jane Eyre—her publishers didn't know Bell was really a woman until 1848, a year after the book was published!

6. JANE EYRE WAS AN INSTANT SUCCESS.

The first page of the manuscript 'Jane Eyre.'
The first page of the manuscript 'Jane Eyre.'
Hulton Archive, Getty Images

In 1847, British publishing firm Smith, Elder & Co published Jane Eyre: An Autobiography. From the start, the book was a success—one critic called it "the best novel of the season"—and people began to speculate about who Currer Bell was. But some reviewers were less impressed, criticizing it for being coarse in content, including one who called it "anti-Christian." Brontë was writing in the Victorian period, after all.

7. BRONTË WAS LUCKY TO AVOID TUBERCULOSIS …

Tuberculosis prematurely killed at least four of Brontë's five siblings, starting with her two oldest sisters, Maria and Elizabeth (who weren't even teenagers yet), in 1825. In 1848, Brontë’s only brother, Branwell, died of chronic bronchitis, officially, though tuberculosis has also been a rumored cause, probably aggravated by alcohol and opium. Her sister Emily came down with a severe illness during Branwell's funeral and died of tuberculosis three months later. Then, five months later in May 1849, Charlotte’s final surviving sibling, Anne, also died of tuberculosis after a lengthy battle.

8. … BUT SHE DIED AT 38 YEARS OLD—WHILE PREGNANT.

In June 1854, Brontë married a clergyman named Arthur Bell Nicholls and got pregnant almost immediately. Her pregnancy was far from smooth sailing though—she had acute bouts of nausea and vomiting, leading to her becoming severely dehydrated and malnourished. She and her unborn child died on March 31, 1855. Although we don’t know for sure what killed her, theories include hyperemesis gravidarum, based on her symptoms, or possibly typhus. Her father, Patrick Brontë, survived his wife and all six children.

9. ZEALOUS BRONTË FANS TRAVEL TO HER HOME IN ENGLAND.

Charlotte Brontë's writing desk in Haworth.
Charlotte Brontë's writing desk in Haworth.
Christopher Furlong, Getty Images

Emily and Anne Brontë wrote famous books, too—Wuthering Heights and Agnes Grey, respectively. The Brontë sisters's writing has inspired devoted fans from around the world to visit their home in Haworth, West Yorkshire, England. The Brontë Society’s Brontë Parsonage Museum in Haworth has a collection of early manuscripts and letters, and the museum invites bookworms to see where the Brontë family lived and wrote, and walk the Yorkshire moors that inspired many of the scenes each sister depicted.

10. SHE HELPED MAKE THE NAME 'SHIRLEY' MORE POPULAR FOR GIRLS.

Thanks to Brontë, the name Shirley is now considered more of a girl's name than a boy's one. In 1849, Brontë's second novel, Shirley, about an independent heiress named Shirley Keeldar, was released. Before then, the name Shirley was unusual, but was most commonly used for boys. (In the novel, the title character was named as such because her parents had wanted a boy.) But after 1849, the name Shirley reportedly started to become popular for women. Decades later in the 1930s, child star Shirley Temple's fame catapulted the name into more popular use.

nextArticle.image_alt|e
Denis De Marney, Getty Images
arrow
literature
From A Game Of Thrones to War and Peace: These are America's 100 Favorite Books
Denis De Marney, Getty Images
Denis De Marney, Getty Images

Die-hard classic literature lovers might quibble over Fifty Shades of Grey being placed on the same list as Jane Eyre, but alas, the people have spoken. Both are among America’s 100 favorite novels, according to a national survey conducted by YouGov.

The list was compiled in support of The Great American Read, an upcoming PBS series about the joys of reading. Set to premiere on May 22, the eight-part series will introduce the "100 best-loved novels" and feature interviews with famous authors, comedians, actors, athletes, and more. A few of the featured guests will include George Lopez, Seth Meyers, Venus Williams, and James Patterson. Gone Girl author Gillian Flynn, A Game of Thrones author George R.R. Martin, and The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao author Junot Díaz, all of whom have books on the list, will also make appearances.

On the day of the series premiere, PBS will launch a round of voting to determine "America’s Best-Loved Novel." Viewers across the country will have the chance to choose their favorite book from the list of 100 and place their vote online, or through Facebook or Twitter using the #GreatReadPBS hashtag. The winner will be announced this fall.

The oldest book on the list is Don Quixote, a classic Spanish novel by Miguel de Cervantes (1603), while the newest is Ghost (2016), a young adult book by Jason Reynolds. The list includes authors from 15 different countries, and the books span several genres. Many of the novels are staples on high school summer reading lists, including 1984, The Great Gatsby, The Catcher in the Rye, and To Kill a Mockingbird.

Scroll down for the full list of America's favorite books, arranged in alphabetical order.

1984
A Confederacy of Dunces
A Game of Thrones
A Prayer for Owen Meany
A Separate Peace
A Tree Grows in Brooklyn
The Adventures of Tom Sawyer
The Alchemist
Alex Cross Mysteries (series)
Alice's Adventures in Wonderland
Americanah
And Then There Were None
Anne of Green Gables
Another Country
Atlas Shrugged
Beloved
Bless Me, Ultima
The Book Thief
The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao
The Call of the Wild
Catch-22
The Catcher in the Rye
Charlotte's Web
The Chronicles of Narnia
The Clan of the Cave Bear
The Coldest Winter Ever
The Color Purple
The Count of Monte Cristo
Crime and Punishment
The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time
The Da Vinci Code
Don Quixote
Doña Barbara
Dune
Fifty Shades of Grey
Flowers in the Attic
Foundation
Frankenstein
Ghost
Gilead
The Giver
The Godfather
Gone Girl
Gone with the Wind
The Grapes of Wrath
Great Expectations
The Great Gatsby
Gulliver's Travels
The Handmaid's Tale
Harry Potter (series)
Hatchet
Heart of Darkness
The Help
The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy
The Hunger Games
The Hunt for Red October
The Intuitionist
Invisible Man
Jane Eyre
The Joy Luck Club
Jurassic Park
Left Behind
The Little Prince
Little Women
Lonesome Dove
Looking for Alaska
The Lord of the Rings (series)
The Lovely Bones
The Martian
Memoirs of a Geisha
Mind Invaders
Moby Dick
The Notebook
One Hundred Years of Solitude
Outlander
The Outsiders
The Picture of Dorian Gray
The Pilgrim's Progress
The Pillars of the Earth
Pride and Prejudice
Ready Player One
Rebecca
The Shack
Siddhartha
The Sirens of Titan
The Stand
The Sun Also Rises
Swan Song
Tales of the City
Their Eyes Were Watching God
Things Fall Apart
This Present Darkness
To Kill a Mockingbird
Twilight
War and Peace
Watchers
The Wheel of Time (series)
Where the Red Fern Grows
White Teeth
Wuthering Heights

SECTIONS

arrow
LIVE SMARTER
More from mental floss studios