• Happy birthday Virginia Mueller (Monster Goes to School), Denys Cazet (The Perfect Pumpkin Pie), Sandra Olson Liatsos (Bicycle Riding), Karen Lynn Williams (Galimoto; Four Feet, Two Sandals), and Mike Wimmer (All the Places to Love).
  • It’s the birth date of Harry Devlin (1918–2001), The Cranberry Tales series.
  • Also born on this day was Randolph Caldecott (1846–1886), The House that Jack Built. The prestigious Caldecott Medal bestowed annually by the American Library Association on the year’s most distinguished picture book is named his honor.
  • In 1638, Anne Hutchinson is expelled from Massachusetts Bay Colony for religions dissent. Read Anne Hutchinson’s Way by Jeannine Atkins, illustrated by Michael Dooling.

Today has been designated International Goof-Off Day—a day to relax, be yourself, and avoid what you are supposed to do. If you are in the position to celebrate International Goof-Off Day, you first might want to read Tony Fucile’s Let’s Do Nothing for tips.

But I myself am happiest when working at something I like to do, and so is our hero of the day, Richard Scarry. Even his biography by Walter Retan and Ole Risom is entitled The Busy, Busy World of Richard Scarry. No one ever showed people working, doing things, or going places with such spirit and joie de vivre as Scarry. Born in Boston on June 5, 1919, Scarry thought like an artist even as a child. When his mother sent him to the store, he never wrote out a list—he drew pictures of the items she wanted. Like Harriet the Spy, he carried a pad and pencil with him and drew feverishly. Although Scarry’s father did not want his son to become an artist, Richard failed at everything else. Eventually, he headed to Boston’s Museum of Fine Arts art school for the training he so desperately wanted.

After his service in World War II, he came to New York and established himself as a freelance artist. Scarry got his first big break a couple of years later when he attracted the attention of Lucille Ogle at the Artists and Writers Guild. A publishing legend known for her hats, Ogle served as the creative force behind Golden Books. Printed in huge numbers, distributed in grocery stores, and priced at a quarter, the Golden Books franchise had already sold thirty-nine million copies by the time Ogle looked at Scarry’s portfolio. Ogle signed Scarry up for a one-year exclusive contract that paid him $400 a month. Although he quickly became one of Golden’s best-selling authors, he never received royalties on his books until 1956. He got them because he finally asked for them!

From the 1950s on, Scarry’s books became a staple of preschool and picture book collections. In books like Richard Scarry’s Busy, Busy Town, he celebrates the work and activities of animals who like to do things. Certainly the book contains some great lines: “The best writers write children’s books….The best librarians are children’s book librarians.” With a vibrant and strong black line, Scarry filled every inch of his double-page spreads with activity, action, and humor; children can pour over the drawings for hours and then go back the next day and see different details. Scarry always used animal characters because he wanted all children, no matter what they looked like, to be able to identify with the figures in his books—children have by the millions.

If you pick up Busy, Busy Town—or Cars and Trucks and Things That Go or What Do People Do All Day?—today, you will feel like you are working, even if you aren’t. I’m just grateful that Richard Scarry makes work and action seem so tantalizing to children and to adults. In his books it looks like a lot more fun to do something you enjoy — than to goof-off.

Here’s a page from Busy, Busy Town:


Originally posted March 22, 2011. Updated for .

Tags: Animals, Humor, Imagination
Instructional materials from TeachingBooks.net for Busy, Busy Town


  1. Tom Angleberger says:

    The master!

    And you’re right… He was tireless! Always ready to stick Lowly Worm or Gold Bug into each of the 10 scenes per page!

    One thing:
    Have you ever seen a copy of What Do People… That is not abridged?

  2. Anita says:

    Since the early 70s, this has only been sold as an abridged volume, with about 1/3 of the original removed. I just checked abebook.com. You can acquire the unabridged volume for $150-500!
    So if you keep writing your fabulous books and don’t goof-off today…

  3. Tess W. says:

    One of my favorite things about reading Richard Scarry books with students is that it never feels like work! Even my students who dread reading because it’s such a challenge for them love “reading” Richard Scarry books because the illustrations are FUN and the text is FUN. I often give his books as gifts to kids just learning to read so that they can attach the idea of reading to the idea of excitement and silliness and fun!

  4. How lovely! And it completely cleared up my mistaken understanding that Scarry was British.

    And now back to the bookstore version of goofing off…

  5. Anita says:

    Carol: He lived in Europe for most of the latter part of his life. But Yankee born.

    I don’t think I have ever witnessed you “goofing-off”!

  6. Bob Kosturko says:

    I loved Richard Scarry’s books as a kid. Lowly Worm was my favorite character—still is. Gotta love a worm sporting a Tyrolean hat!

  7. Jamie Tan says:

    I love the size of the Scarry books, because I can imagine kids being dwarfed by “What Do People Do All Day?” I work at a bookstore, and a customer mentioned he owned a very large version of the book. I was jealous, simply because he could examine those delightful illustrations in even more detail!

  8. Gili says:

    Thanks for this post, and for your excellent blog in general. I love love love Richard Scarry, and I wish he were better known in Israel. Here’s a post I wrote about him in Hebrew:


    If you use Google translate to try to read this, keep in mind that “surveys” is how Google chose to translate “Scarry” and “holidays” pops up whenever I wrote the name of my 3 year old son, Haggai.

  9. Anita says:

    Bob: My sentiments exactly, about the hat.

  10. suzi w. says:

    oh, you just made my day. I do not have TIME to have a “goof off day” but since I’m awake early I’m going to do some things I’ve been putting off that are for ME, even though others would see them as work. I ADORE Richard Scarry. His books are the books of my childhood. We still talk about Glip and Glop houses (painted opposite on either side, from his Around the world book…not sure if that’s what it’s called.) Pig Will and Pig Won’t, and I will never forget the grandmother who couldn’t find her glasses b/c they were on top of her head and she was waiting waiting waiting for a letter from her granddaughter.

    Suzi (who is very Busy Busy)

  11. Anita says:

    Suzi: I myself cannot goof off today; but I do love the idea of it.

  12. In a documentary about Studs Terkel, his Pantheon editor, Andre Schiffrin, said he got the idea to suggest Studs do an oral history called “Working” from reading Richard Scarry’s “What Do People Do All Day.”
    I love this anecdote beyond all measure! Hurray for such a smart editor!

  13. Anita says:

    Fran: Thanks for this information — a great anecdote indeed.

  14. Kristin says:

    I remember loving Richard Scarry books as a child. As an adult they can be a little trying – only because children crave a repetition many of us have outgrown. Sometimes Scarry’s superlatives can wear down a grownup who is constantly busy. As I read your post this morning – cat on lap, idle for the first time in years – I looked up to find my coffee cup sitting on Richard Scary’s Best Word Book Ever. My daughters *love* this book, and several of Scary’s other books. They rarely make it back to the book shelves.
    And they are inspired by the books.They see someone jumping, and they jump, grinning from ear to ear. They see someone doing auto mechanics and zip – they’re off to the toy box for screwdrivers and cars and lying down on their crash mat to engage in a bit of auto repair.
    Seeing the books through their engagement has given me a newfound appreciation of them.

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