Social Change in the Best Word Book Ever
November 10, 2015 2:24 PM   Subscribe

How Richard Scarry updated his children’s book to be more progressive and inclusive: photos comparing and contrasting two editions of Richard Scarry's Best Word Book Ever and documenting shifts between 1963 and 1991.
posted by eagle-bear (55 comments total) 38 users marked this as a favorite
 
Hey! That's MetaFilter's own kokogiak!
posted by yhbc at 2:32 PM on November 10, 2015 [2 favorites]


It's nice to see someone who was able to integrate challenges to his worldview without having a big spoiled screaming fit about it. Maybe he felt grumpy about the criticism - I don't know; I always feel grumpy about criticism myself - but he belted up and took action.

"Cat In Danger" should totally be a spy movie of some kind, featuring human-sized cats living in a world of cats....and intrigue!
posted by Frowner at 2:37 PM on November 10, 2015 [20 favorites]


This has been all over my facebook, people are fascinated.

Also Alan Taylor/kokogiak is a cool guy, one time he sent my kids a picture of a takin.

(I mean because I asked for one, not because he just randomly sends children takin pictures, that'd be weird.)
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 2:42 PM on November 10, 2015


To this day I still claim, with earnest, that my favorite book of all time is Scarry's "Cars and Trucks and Things That Go." But this one is up there too.

(. for the "Beautiful Screaming Lady," though...)
posted by wats at 2:54 PM on November 10, 2015 [8 favorites]


Heh, I knew this seemed familiar. 10 years ago
posted by smackfu at 2:56 PM on November 10, 2015 [8 favorites]


last year i decided, in an anemic/ambien haze presumably, that i desperately needed a new copy of What Do People Do All Day and it was just as delightful as i remembered
posted by poffin boffin at 2:57 PM on November 10, 2015 [6 favorites]


I have the original edition of "What Do People Do All Day"! Two copies, actually - I loved it so much that I had one copy for the house and another for the car. I absolutely remember "beautiful screaming lady". I also remember the section called "What Do Mommies Do All Day" - which, of course, included sweeping, cooking, and caring for the little ones.

There are plenty of updates in "What Do People Do All Day". I think the entire chapter on Mommies has been removed. I wonder if my folks still have my copies of it?

I think that Richard Scarry's books are wonderful for pre-readers. It helps to connect an object with a written word, and if read aloud, the sound of the word. For example: there is a picture of an apple with "apple" written next to it. Children see the apple and know that the word "apple" goes with it. Children say the word "apple" out loud and know that the spoken word goes with the written word and the picture. I sincerely believe that I was an early reader because of his books and I will push them at any willing pre-reader I can find.
posted by Elly Vortex at 2:59 PM on November 10, 2015 [3 favorites]


I would so love to crack open a 2015 edition of WDPDAD and find cats and bunnies and alligators and whatnot being Uber Drivers, Social Justice Warriors, Venture Capitalists, YouTube Deboxers, etc
posted by prize bull octorok at 3:04 PM on November 10, 2015 [15 favorites]


I've been wondering about this since I noticed the differences better the pages in the book and the pages in a Scarry compendium we have, which has the earlier version. I figured it was something like this but had no idea that Scarry himself made the changes, which is cool.
posted by Artw at 3:06 PM on November 10, 2015


The copy I have still has 50s-style stuff in it like "Grocer Cat bought a new dress for Mommy, she earned it by taking such good care of the house" but not the mommies section.

i just now noticed that it says "abridged edition" which makes me feel terribly betrayed
posted by poffin boffin at 3:12 PM on November 10, 2015


Jewish people depicted as mice? Art Spiegelman’s lawyer would like a word...
posted by Emma May Smith at 3:16 PM on November 10, 2015 [3 favorites]


I would so love to crack open a 2015 edition of WDPDAD and find cats and bunnies and alligators and whatnot being Uber Drivers, Social Justice Warriors, Venture Capitalists, YouTube Deboxers, etc

So basically a compendium of Golgafrinchans. I can see how that would be handy.
posted by five fresh fish at 3:28 PM on November 10, 2015 [4 favorites]


... Venture Capitalists ...

Welcome to BUSINESS TOWN!
posted by user92371 at 3:29 PM on November 10, 2015 [26 favorites]


(. for the "Beautiful Screaming Lady," though...)

This feels like George Lucas tampering with Star Wars. Sure it's flawed, but who cares. Something is lost when "pretty stewardess" and "handsome pilot" is changed to just "flight attendant" and "pilot".
posted by Melismata at 3:55 PM on November 10, 2015 [3 favorites]


Okay, now I kinda want to FPP Business Town.
posted by box at 3:55 PM on November 10, 2015 [4 favorites]


I still have my childhood copy of Scarry's Best Storybook Ever. That and Jack Prelutsky's It's Halloween are among my most prized possessions. I still break it out from time to time (usually when really sick) and flip through it.

Nice updates.
posted by echocollate at 4:06 PM on November 10, 2015


The most recent version is called Bojack Horseman.
posted by sevenyearlurk at 4:07 PM on November 10, 2015 [9 favorites]


I've expressed my feelings for Richard Scarry and how his books kind of changed my life as a kid here, but I LOVE that bit with the dad cooking. I grew up with a cavalcade of female cooks, but the men cooked too. Sunday morning was Dad's French Toast or Pancakes + some Star Trek.

Cars and Trucks and things that go for life.
posted by Sphinx at 4:10 PM on November 10, 2015 [4 favorites]


Have a discussion of class divisions in BusyTown and John Levi Martin's paper which analyses the matter in remarkable detail....
posted by emilyw at 4:22 PM on November 10, 2015 [2 favorites]


Hmm, I was wondering if this was actually the work of his son (who also publishes under the name Richard Scarry) but Scarry Sr. passed away in 1994 so it was probably him.
posted by murphy slaw at 4:59 PM on November 10, 2015


This feels like George Lucas tampering with Star Wars. Sure it's flawed, but who cares. Something is lost when "pretty stewardess" and "handsome pilot" is changed to just "flight attendant" and "pilot".

I don't agree. These books are education in nature - children use them to learn to read but also to build models of how the world works and how to act and fit themselves into it. That's true of all books for small children, but this book is explicitly that. Giving children better models is important, and not pointless tinkering. The new editions are not about adult nostalgia - it's about what we're presenting to children fresh.

Star Wars is something else entirely.
posted by vibratory manner of working at 5:03 PM on November 10, 2015 [24 favorites]


It is interesting to note as well the change in animals. The large elephant, this great drawing of a rhino, and a really neat crocodile were new to my eyes, because I only ever had the newer edition of the book, where they were all replaced by generic fluffy bunnies and kitties.

Why can't there be cool female crocodiles, or rhinos?
posted by DGStieber at 5:04 PM on November 10, 2015 [1 favorite]


Scarry's Malthusian visions of rabbit fertility scarred me for life.
posted by benzenedream at 5:04 PM on November 10, 2015 [5 favorites]


I have such a vivid recollection of the picture of the piggies holding the rescue net and no memory at all of the "beautiful screaming lady" caption.
posted by ArbitraryAndCapricious at 5:30 PM on November 10, 2015


My mental image of a robogó will always have a róka riding it.
posted by Wolfdog at 5:54 PM on November 10, 2015


I love this.
posted by SarahElizaP at 6:55 PM on November 10, 2015


This feels like George Lucas tampering with Star Wars. Sure it's flawed, but who cares. Something is lost when "pretty stewardess" and "handsome pilot" is changed to just "flight attendant" and "pilot".

I got one of Richard Scarry's books when I was learning Spanish, and it did a better job of teaching me adjectives than anything else. I still see vague images of his characters whenever I think of the Spanish words for "fat" and "thin." Stripping adjectives from the book might make it less controversial but I think they did serve a purpose in there, i.e. teaching kids adjectives.

I'd rather imagine a Richard Scarry character when I think of "fat" than an actual person...
posted by mantecol at 7:01 PM on November 10, 2015 [2 favorites]


Scarry's Malthusian visions of rabbit fertility scarred me for life.

Pig families shopping for sausages and working in butchers shops...
posted by Artw at 7:03 PM on November 10, 2015 [5 favorites]


Something is lost when "pretty stewardess" and "handsome pilot" is changed to just "flight attendant" and "pilot".

Yes, sexism.
posted by His thoughts were red thoughts at 7:48 PM on November 10, 2015 [27 favorites]


This makes my heart ache, I loved these books so much. I remember absolutely drooling over Mealtime.
posted by stargell at 7:57 PM on November 10, 2015 [1 favorite]


Never mind that the pig is eating some beef. Let’s totally not get into that.
posted by stargell at 7:59 PM on November 10, 2015 [2 favorites]


Best case. Honest.
posted by Artw at 8:04 PM on November 10, 2015 [1 favorite]


I suspect some of the differences aren't just 1963 vs 1991, but different editions for different markets. For example, the sailboat in the 1963 version is flying the Australian Red Ensign & is named 'Gretel' - the name of Frank Packer's 1962 America's Cup challenger.

Wikipedia tells me there were different British & American editions - maybe an Australian one too?
posted by Pinback at 10:22 PM on November 10, 2015




My son likes Richard Scarry's Best Counting Book Ever, but I'm a fan of his true-crime graphic novel anthology The Great Pie Robbery and Other Mysteries.
posted by Jpfed at 10:28 PM on November 10, 2015 [5 favorites]


Couldn't they have gone with "pretty pilot" and "handsome flight attendant"? Or is the objection entirely with describing people as somehow being attractive, is that the sexist part?

Anyway stripping out the adjectives and stuff... I mean, the original Hardy Boys books were wonderful pieces of literature. The new books that remove anything that might have been "flawed" or "problematic" are weak sauce and not even really written, just sort of story summaries.
posted by hippybear at 2:52 AM on November 11, 2015 [3 favorites]


I have a two-year-old. Three months ago, she discovered Richard Scarry's Best Word Book Ever. She quite enjoyed it. Maybe you know where I'm going with this.

Over the hundreds of times we have read this book out loud since July, I've started editorializing a bit, because that is better than slowly slipping into the chasm of insanity as we describe once again how Kenny Bear dresses himself on a cold frosty morning. Not knowing of the extensive changes Scarry made to normalize gender roles, I was a little irritated about the "what do you want to be when you grow up?" page, because the narrative text starts with "Do you want to be a good chef like your dad?" and lately when we get to this page I get a little irritated and tell her no, it's not just MEN who can become chefs, and chef is one of those jobs that was all women until someone attached social status to it, and then all of a sudden it's a boys' club. Now that I see the original version of the kitchen with only Mama Cat, I understand. Strange how that pendulum swings.
posted by Mayor West at 4:52 AM on November 11, 2015 [1 favorite]


The sailboat original is intriguing. The flag that has been removed is the civilian Australian flag, previously used for merchant vessels. The name of the boat, Gretel, is the name of one of the yachts built to contend the America's Cup (1970, well before the winged keel did its thing in the early 80s, and caused out then Prime Minister to say "any boss who sacks a worker for not coming in today is a bum."in reference to the alcoholic celebrations occurring as a result).
posted by b33j at 5:48 AM on November 11, 2015


Oh bugger, I see that the comments under those images discuss this. Oh well.
posted by b33j at 5:49 AM on November 11, 2015


I'm kind of surprised that they kept "hoop rolling" as an example of children at play, given that the only time I have actually seen anybody do that was a gaggle of hipsters in a Williamsburg park.

We just don't have many discarded barrel hoops these days.
posted by GameDesignerBen at 6:30 AM on November 11, 2015 [2 favorites]


It's too bad the new illustrations aren't as good as the old, and it's too bad the adjectives are being stripped out. On the other hand, since all the animals are pretty much all alike, "pretty" and "handsome" can't be learned by context, only by stereotype. I'm also a little disappointed that female animals wear hair ribbons. It's better than long eyelashes, I guess. Around here we have a pair of nesting bald eagles, and whenever I see one of them, I try to say "she" 50% of the time and "he" 50% of the time.
posted by acrasis at 7:31 AM on November 11, 2015 [1 favorite]


(. for the "Beautiful Screaming Lady," though...)

I'm fine with seeing "pretty stewardess" and "handsome pilot" lose the qualifiers, but I weep for the loss of "Beautiful Screaming Lady." In thousands of households across America like the one I grew up in, a critical opportunity has been lost: for a toddler to turn to their mother and say "Oh like you, Mommy!"

Cutting the setup for Baby's First Sick Burn impoverishes us all.
posted by Ryvar at 8:41 AM on November 11, 2015 [5 favorites]


I still have copies of these books from the 70's.

Now I want to get the updated ones and play my own game 'find the changes'!

One of my fondest memories is story time and finding Goldbug.
posted by Jalliah at 9:37 AM on November 11, 2015 [2 favorites]


One of my fondest memories is story time and finding Goldbug.

YES to this. My now-teenage daughter used to love reading Cars & Trucks & Things That Go as a toddler and I can still remember the first time she finally figured out that Goldbug and Maniacbug weren't one and the same. Aww, sweet memories.
posted by cheapskatebay at 11:12 AM on November 11, 2015


We recently got a Dutch language version of the book, which our 2.5 yo loves, but shocked to see it is a translation of the 1963 version! Now I know there is a more progressive version this angers me no end.
Thinking of an attempt to Facebook-shame the publisher to update.
posted by charles kaapjes at 11:14 AM on November 11, 2015


I've self linked before and I'll self link again... Everything great about Richard Scarry in one picture
posted by jcruelty at 11:25 AM on November 11, 2015 [2 favorites]


I love Richard Scarry so much. I'm considering a tattoo, honestly. Especially after this.
posted by fiercecupcake at 12:34 PM on November 11, 2015 [2 favorites]


Something is lost when "pretty stewardess" and "handsome pilot" is changed to just "flight attendant" and "pilot".

I was gonna say, yeah sexism, but somebody beat me.

While I am here, let me recommend Richard Scarry's Busytown Eye Found It board game for kids 3-6. It's one of the better non-competitive games I've found for young kids. I drive my kids crazy by rooting for the pigs.
posted by mrgrimm at 1:58 PM on November 11, 2015


I am a fan of Richard Scarry, and this is a cool thing that I'm glad I've learned about. I will tell you, however, that while I fully understand and support the reason for the change, I have been snickering about the phrase "jumping gentleman" for like two hours and am sad to see it go.
posted by Errant at 2:22 PM on November 11, 2015


Best Ride Ever is still a classic of urban mayhem.
posted by klangklangston at 2:47 PM on November 11, 2015 [1 favorite]


They fixed a lot, but I'm still sketched out that the shoe-shiner is a raccoon.
posted by rum-soaked space hobo at 3:19 AM on November 12, 2015


Richard Scarry is actually quite influential in the early development of furries. Just sayin'.
posted by hippybear at 3:27 AM on November 12, 2015


for me it was influential in the early development of wanting to drive around in a car that looked like a big apple with a leaf antenna so i'm glad that at least one of us is living their childhood dreams
posted by poffin boffin at 9:42 AM on November 12, 2015 [2 favorites]


Among all the social changes and redraws and rewrites, I noticed a small linguistic one: "store keeper" became "storekeeper" (no space). The engermancompoundificationing of English continues…
posted by traveler_ at 5:05 PM on November 12, 2015


Well this thread made me finally get off my ass and order a few of Scarry's books for our 2.9 y/o. When we declared it finally bedtime after reading many pages he insisted on taking them to bed with him and paged through them for a long time before going to sleep. When I went in this morning I was greeted thusly.
posted by phearlez at 6:22 PM on November 13, 2015 [3 favorites]


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