How Busytown Is Built: An Interview With Richard Scarry, Jr.

Huckle and Lowly Busytown

Richard Scarry's Busytown

There are 3 names that simply sum up the media consumption of children: Henson. Seuss. Scarry.

Huckle Cat and Lowly Worm are two characters instantly recognizable by parents and children alike. For generations, Richard Scarry‘s books have been giving children an entrance into learning with beautiful art, and fun characters. Richard Scarry’s Best Word Book, and What Do People Do All Day? are classics I remember from my childhood, and have shared with my kids. They’re just 2 of his over 300 titles in circulation; five are among the Publisher’s Weekly “Top 100 List of All-Time Best-Selling Children’s Books.

Scarry’s stories from Busytown have been turned into a traveling stage production, and I had a chance to chat with Richard Scarry‘s son, Huck (Richard Scarry, Jr.) about the making of the books, and why these classics are truly art pieces.

Read the interview after the jump:

We have a poster of Busytown that hung in my wife’s room as a child that is now in our second child’s room. It’s the perfect distraction, where’s the pig, where’s the bus, where’s the plane… your father’s works were almost the original Where’s Waldo?.

Classic Busytown Poster

Classic Busytown Poster

My father always loved to put in a lot of detail in each page. He had a terrific imagination and a very childlike mind. My father never forgot to keep the child within himself. I try to remember that myself as well.

I love that my children give me a chance to have a new and fresh perspective on life. You get to do everything again for the first time. What sort of influence did you have on those works, when you were younger?

He so much enjoyed doing things with me. We went out sailing a lot and skiing and archery and collected coins. And so we did a lot of things together, and I suppose I may have had some form of influence on him. I know that with my own kids, they always keep me on my toes and make me aware that my ideas aren’t always the best ones or the only ones. And that’s a lovely thing.

There’s a great quote from your father that was in his obituary in the New York Times: “It’s a precious thing to be communicating to children, helping them discover the gift of language and thought. I’m happy to be doing it.” Is that why you continued on with his works?

Richard "Huck" Scarry Jr

Richard "Huck" Scarry Jr

I used to help my father coloring up his books … And then later I started doing some new books based on his characters and after he passed away I decided to continue doing that in a more earnest manner because I loved the work that my father did. The more that I work on them, and the longer he’s not here, the more I’m aware of what a genius he was.  I try to do it as well as he did, which is a tremendous challenge. I don’t always manage to do it 100%, but I make a good try at it.

Can you talk me through the process of making one of your books?

The first thing is to find an idea. People would often ask my father where he would get his ideas from and he said, “just outside on the street.” I basically try and do the same things with these books. Busytown is basically a mirror image of any town anywhere. And the animal characters that populate it are everyone’s neighbors and oneself at the same time.

Richard Scarry

Richard Scarry

Then one goes to make sketches, pencil sketches on tracing paper. I don’t use any computer or anything like that. I’ll make some sketches and move things around, take some scissors and then the text. I still have a typewriter, which is how my father used to do it, too.

After the sketches are approved by the publisher, I make some more detailed drawings. The last section is coloring up the book, and that’s the always the longest to do. And so basically I color in all the yellows, one day all the reds, all the oranges, and just go through the book like that.

This is really organic and this is truly art.

It is drawing and painting, yes. You can see very often when things are done mechanically. The field of color will be very uniform from one edge of the page to the other, and there’s nothing your eye can catch on to — it’s boring. And so I’m all for anything that is done by hand. Things that require skill and craft and into which whoever is doing it puts their heart.

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