Richard Scarry, the popular children’s writer and illustrator, died at his home in Switzerland ten years ago.
swissinfo spoke to his son, Huck Scarry, who also publishes children’s books, about his work and the foundation he runs to help disadvantaged children read and write.
Richard Scarry's books and the characters “Huckle Cat”, “Lowly Worm” and “Bananas Gorilla” are familiar to children and adults all over the world.
What is perhaps less widely known is that the Scarry family moved to Switzerland from the United States in 1968 - and stayed there.
After his father’s death, Huck Scarry began publishing new books using the familiar Scarry characters.
He also created the Richard Scarry Foundation for Children’s Literacy and Education, which is housed in the Scarry family home in Gstaad.
swissinfo: You are carrying on your father’s work and have published several books featuring Huckle Cat, Lowly Worm and their friends. Why do you think these characters have such universal appeal, more than 40 years after they were first created?
Huck Scarry: I think my father was very clever in deciding on using animals as characters. In some of his earlier books he used a little boy and a little girl, but he very quickly came upon the idea of putting lovable animals into overalls, shorts and sweaters, and using them as characters.
And I also think that when he was looking at his friends, or people in the street, he basically saw animals walking around town. He would see a crocodile or a rabbit or a pig. His mind just worked that way.
The universality of his books, or the amusing key, is that children in the Far East or in South America or in Europe or in America can all identify equally well with the animals instead of seeing a child that might have a different skin colour or hairstyle that they’re not familiar with. All children everywhere find a rabbit cuddly, sweet and a lot of fun.
swissinfo: Where did Richard Scarry get his ideas from?
H.S.: He was often asked this question and he would simply reply: “Just outside in the street”. My father was a very funny man and so funny things happened to him all the time. He also saw funny things around him - really just everyday life outside. And, of course, there was the marvellous fantasy that he had inside his head.
swissinfo: What to you is the most memorable way in which a particular character originated?
My father's characters are based on people around him or indeed himself. “Mr Frumble”, who is sort of a bungler but a lovable one, contains a little bit of himself. We all do things where we make mistakes or bump into things.
Lowly Worm was created as an incidental figure without any name, who just turned up in little corners and children had to find him on each page. He eventually grew into the number one character, along with Huckle, who was based on me as a child.
swissinfo: Richard Scarry’s characters are fun, but also educational. Children can learn about colours, shapes, counting and even manners through the characters. Did he see himself as an educator?
H.S.: Oh, absolutely. He put a lot of importance on manners and being well behaved and polite. He felt it was important that good values come through in his stories. That’s one of the reasons that you don’t find anything vulgar or violent in his books: he felt it was very important to show a world in which people respected one another, and were helpful and good to one another.
swissinfo: Did it come naturally to you to carry on the Scarry tradition?
H.S.: Yes and no. I love to draw and paint; I make my own books and I’ve done a number of my own children’s books. But I never really wanted to work on books for my father, although I did help him often to colour up books.
But when he passed away, I felt it was a great pity that the world of Richard Scarry would die with him or peter out slowly, and I felt it was something I should do my best to keep alive. So every year I do a few new books of his and that basically keeps his whole world alive, and it also maintains an interest in the older books.
swissinfo: You came to Switzerland with your parents Richard and Patricia Scarry in 1968. What drew your family to Switzerland?
H.S.: Very simple: my father loved to ski and he loved the mountains. We lived in Connecticut [in the United States] and I was on a skiing trip with my father in Switzerland when he decided he’d like to spend a year over here to see what it was like. So we came over with a few suitcases, found a little place in Lausanne and we never moved back.
swissinfo: You family’s chalet in Gstaad now also houses the Richard Scarry Foundation for Children’s Literacy and Education, of which you are the head.
H.S.: It was an idea that grew out of the Kosovo tragedy. I was very moved by the fact that these children and their mothers were being deported, living in refugee camps and so forth, and all of this was taking place 600-700 kilometres away from here. So, I decided I would simply send books to wherever I could, to where these kids could read them.
We sent masses and masses of books to organisations who were working there. How many arrived I will never know, but it was the seed of an idea to do something on an ongoing basis. What we basically do is buy large quantities of Scarry books and give them to organisations who can distribute them effectively. We’ve been averaging about 50,000 books a year and most of these books are going to Africa.
swissinfo: Apart from sending books, you have also co-sponsored several projects.
H.S.: On rare occasions we will make a contribution to another organisation where we feel that their goals are similar to our own. Currently, we are co-sponsoring a pre-school for Roma children in Kosovo and we’re also sponsoring the building of a children’s mobile library in Zimbabwe. The library is a little cart which is pulled by donkeys and which will visit rural areas in Zimbabwe.
In Switzerland we’ve sponsored a children’s book for blind children. So we try and do things for kids everywhere, whether far away or close to home.
swissinfo-interview: Tina Hirschbuehl
Richard Scarry was born in Boston in 1919.
He moved to Switzerland in 1968 and died in Gstaad in 1994.
Scarry wrote or illustrated over 300 books.
Richard Scarry started his career illustrating other authors’ books, before deciding to write his own.
The first book in his “Busytown” series, “The Best Word Book Ever”, was published in 1963.
More than 150 million copies of Scarry books have been sold worldwide, and many have been translated into up to 28 languages.
Scarry's son Huck also creates children’s books.
Huck Scarry set up the Richard Scarry Foundation for Children’s Literacy and Education to help provide books for children in need.
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