With more than 100 books to his credit, the late Richard Scarry – assisted by Lowly Worm, Huckle Cat, and other amiable anthropomorphic characters – introduced generations of young readers to basic concepts, nursery rhymes, and the buoyant world of Busytown. This year marks the 50th anniversary of his Big Golden Book Richard Scarry’s Best Word Book Ever, which has sold more than 4.5 million copies in the U.S. alone. Random House Children’s Books is commemorating the occasion with a new edition of the book, due on July 23. Its release launches the publisher’s rebranding program of Richard Scarry backlist titles, which will be reissued with new, uniform covers.
Three additional rebranded books also go on sale that day: board books Richard Scarry: Mr. Paint Pig’s ABCs and Richard Scarry’s Best Little Board Book Ever; and Richard Scarry’s Busy, Busy, Town!, a Big Golden Book. The publishing program is spearheaded by Heidi Kilgras, editorial director at RHCB, who has been with the house for 17 years. She explained that Best Word Book Ever’s 50th anniversary serves as “a great jumping-off point to rebrand Richard Scarry’s books.”
To keep the new editions as true to the original books as possible, Richard Scarry’s original artwork is being scanned for the rebranded books. Kilgras estimated that the rebranding program will encompass upwards of 35 titles, with four to six books scheduled for each season, through at least spring 2016. Among the releases are a handful of titles that also commemorate anniversaries. Due out in 2014 and 2015 are Richard Scarry’s Cars and Trucks and Things That Go (40th anniversary); Richard Scarry’s Best Mother Goose Book Ever, I am a Bunny, and Chipmunk’s ABC (all 50th anniversaries); and The Gingerbread Man (60th anniversary).
Bringing It All Together
Golden Books began publishing Scarry’s work in the late 1940s, when editor Lucille Ogle viewed his portfolio and took a liking to his work. Scarry had arrived in New York City to pursue a career in commercial art after a stint drawing maps and designing graphics for the U.S. Army. In the 1970s, Random House launched a line of books under the illustrator’s name. “A thread running through Richard Scarry’s career was the late Ole Risom,” Kilgras said (Risom was art director at Golden Books from 1952–1972, and associate publisher at Random House from 1972–1990). “He was a very talented and influential editor and art director. When Random House acquired Golden Books in 2001, two very strong and rich backlists came together under one umbrella. With this rebranding, the books will have a refreshed, cohesive look.”
Another key person in Richard Scarry’s life was his son, Richard Scarry, Jr., known as Huck. An author and artist in his own right, he has also contributed art – in his father’s style – to Richard Scarry books. Huck has fond memories of working creatively side-by-side with his father at an early age. “I spent many hours lying on the floor of my father’s studio, him working on a new book, and me with a big pad, drawing cars, airplanes, trains, and Napoleonic battle scenes,” he recalled. “The studio was always a fun place to be, filled with paper and paints and brushes, and it always smelled of rubber cement and freshly sharpened pencils.”
Before publishing his first solo book, Steam Train Journey, which was issued by Collins in the U.K. in 1979, Huck took on various illustrating jobs for Random House. “I remember some not-so-easy tasks, like illustrating Disney and Charles Schulz books, but it was good training,” he said. He went on to write and illustrate other books on transportation for a number of publishers, including Mondadori, Flammarion, and Prentice-Hall. He then moved on to a new phase of his career.
“The idea of creating art in my father’s style came from my longtime friend and former editor at Flammarion, Michel Duplaix,” Huck said. “He suggested the idea to both my father and myself. I had helped my father color his books since my teens, and the next step, to draw them as well, I guess seemed quite natural.”
Natural, perhaps – but not simple. “It is a big challenge, always!” he said. “My father could draw anything, and the results always look so easy, but there is a lot of work and mastery behind his drawings. And, of course, there’s a big helping of humor thrown in. So from my very first attempts to today, the challenge hasn’t gotten any easier. But I love working with his characters. It also keeps me in touch with him daily. I can still hear his laughter.”
Huck said he is pleased that Random House is rebranding his father’s oeuvre, now under one house’s roof, and that his books continue to delight and teach. “It is amazing to see how much my father'’ books are loved today, 40, 50, and 60 years since they were first published – and loved equally by parents and children all around the world,” he said. “Apart from some changes to the covers, the content inside remains the same as always – fresh and funny and full of things to discover.”
Given his nickname, a question begs to be asked: Is Huckle Cat anyone he knows? “Huckle is, of course, me,” he replied. “He first appeared in 1967, in Storybook Dictionary, as a little bear in lederhosen. I’m not sure when, or why, he then became a cat, perhaps with Great Big Schoolhouse in 1969, side-by-side with his inseparable friend, Lowly Worm.” Happily for Richard Scarry fans, the two are together still.
Richard Scarry’s Best Word Book Ever, Rebranded Edition. Richard Scarry. Random House, $15.99 July ISBN 978-0-307-15510-8