We’re thrilled to host Huck Scarry, son of Busytown author and illustrator Richard Scarry, at New-York Historical on Dec. 14 and 15, from 1–3 pm. An author and illustrator himself, Huck lives in Switzerland, but spent most of his childhood in Connecticut. He’s joining us to celebrate Richard Scarry’s centenary year and our Busytown-themed toys and trains exhibition, Holiday Express: All Aboard to Richard Scarry’s Busytown. Kids and their families can learn about growing up with Busytown, watch as Huck draws beloved characters, and draw their own favorite Busytown citizens! Huck will also read from some of his favorite books and follow that up with a Busytown book signing. Pick up copies in our NYHistory Store or bring your own from home! And go to our website to learn more about the programming on Dec. 14 and Dec. 15.
To get ready for this weekend, Huck answered a few questions for us:
Busytown is beloved around the world. How big a role did the books play in your own childhood?
Well, Busytown really came into being with What Do People Do All Day? published in 1968. I was then 15 years old. So Busytown was still only fermenting in my father’s mind when I was a child. That said, I loved to read the storybooks both my parents—my mother, Patsy, wrote several of the earlier books illustrated by Richard—created when I was little. Pierre Bear, Good Night Little Bear, Just for Fun are a few of these.
When did you start drawing Busytown characters yourself?
We moved from Connecticut to Lausanne, Switzerland in 1968 when I was 15. My father simply wanted to be closer to the great ski slopes! Since I loved to draw and was competent with watercolor, my father asked if I might help him to color-up one of his big books—always a very time-consuming endeavor. Naturally, I was thrilled at the prospect. It only worked in the summertime when I had no school, but I remember helping with a few titles. We would work together for a couple of weeks at a pair of tables, chatting and joking as we painted away—it was great fun, and I feel lucky that we had those times together.
Later, my father began to have difficulty with his eyesight. One of his publishers thought that maybe I might actually draw the books. Well, I frankly wince when I see some of my first attempts, but over time, I have managed to get the knack of it, and now feel quite at home with all the characters. I hope my father would agree! Quite apart from drawing the characters is the whole aspect of entering into my father’s spirit. I will tell you, it’s loads of fun! And being confronted with organizing texts and illustrations myself, I’ve learned to admire my father’s incredible sense of graphics, colors, and general design. Put simply: In what he did, he was a genius. And he knew it.
Richard Scarry’s books have detailed illustrations and stories that educate children (and adults!) on how towns work, from fire departments to electrical upgrades to food distribution. How did your father learn about these systems?
There was no Internet, of course, but there was the library, and our family made regular visits to the Westport Public Library. My father had The World Book Encyclopedia always at hand behind his drawing table. I still have it—a wonderful source of reference for youngsters! The other thing my father had was an ingenious reference file. Whenever he got a magazine in his hands, he would tear out any photos, illustrations, or articles that he thought he might be able to use one day. He popped these into hanging files alphabetically. When he needed images of, say, a coal mine, then he had something ready at hand. Quite amazing! I had to dispense with much of this very dusty material, but made a point of keeping a couple of boxes.
So your given name is Richard Jr., but then there’s Huck and Huckle Cat. Can you help us sort these out?
I have the same first name as my father. Now, why they named me “Richard,” I never understood, because from the moment I was born, they always called me “Huck”. My father loved the stories by Mark Twain, and when he held me in his arms the very first time, he said, “Why, he’s a real Huckleberry Finn!” This got shortened to “Huck”, but oftentimes my mother would call me “Hucklebear,” a little pun on “Huckleberry.”
When my father wrote Storybook Dictionary—now called Best Picture Dictionary Ever—in 1966, among the big cast of characters was the Bear Family. The child was a cute little bear who wore lederhosen named Huckle Bear. Later, in Great Big Schoolhouse, Huckle became a cat. My father was always very fond of cats, but it’s anyone’s guess why the little bear became a cat—I forgot to ask him!
Busytown and What Do People Do All Day? now have a whole new generation of fans. What’s it like when encounter young fans today? Do they ask different questions or have different favorites than previous generations?
This centennial year for my father has meant that I went traveling quite a bit to meet children and parents in many different places. What has particularly struck me is how universal the love for Richard’s books is: Be it in Italy or Finland or China, be the readers one year old or 90, my father seems to touch just about everyone’s heart and just about everyone feels that they have their own personal relationship with his world. It is an incredibly beautiful thing to reach so many people in so many places, totally regardless of time, with just a pencil, tubes of color paint, and a fertile imagination.
Last question: We love that your father chose to include those moments of chaos to which we can all relate. Tomato trucks crash, fire hoses spray all over, and painters wobble atop ladders. Do you know why he chose to include these moments?
My father once said that since he is of Irish descent, he has an Irish sense of humor. Even if something unfortunate happens, he can still see the amusing or funny side to it. I would also add that my father was himself a very funny person, and he was sensitive to all the funny things going on around him. And so he put in his books all kinds of crazy accidents. Nobody ever gets hurt! Richard’s “accidents” make us smile.
Stop by New-York Historical on Dec. 14 and Dec. 15 from 1-3 pm to meet Huck in person and explore our exhibition Holiday Express: All Aboard to Richard Scarry’s Busytown.
Written by Alice Stevenson
Above illustrations © 2019 by the Richard Scarry Corporation
Holiday Express: All Aboard to Richard Scarry’s Busytown supported by:
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