Between the Lines: Richard Scarry's Busy, Busy Town
When my daughter was just a few months old, my father-in-law bought Richard Scarry's Busy, Busy Town to read to her because he had read it to my husband when he was young. My husband fondly remembers Sergeant Murphy, the police-officer dog, as his favourite Scarry character.
Grandpa loved to flip through this action-packed book with his granddaughter on his lap. There was always something new to discover at each sitting. Many months later, my daughter found her own favourite character, Lowly.
She still didn't enunciate well at that time, so outsiders could not understand that she was referring to Busy Town's friendly worm whenever she said "Yo-Yee".
I found it amusing how Lowly the worm stood out on the page. The cats, rabbits, pigs, dogs, and all of the other animals were illustrated in similar shape and size. And among them would be twiglike Lowly, who always wore an alpine hat and a smile.
More recently, my daughter has been musing over the sequential descriptions of Busy Town 's busy activities.
In "At the Post Office", Huckle the cat writes a letter to Grandma, and Scarry proceeds to show the reader how that piece of mail reaches Grandma, who jumps with joy on receiving it. With a preoccupation with all things medical, it's no surprise that my daughter always asks us to re-read "Lowly Goes to the Medical Centre", a thoughtful overview of the different types of medical services a child might encounter.
I recognise Scarry's illustrations, but I don't recall reading them as a child. But it turns out that I owned his Best Story Book Ever.
This was revealed when, this summer in Canada, my parents finally succeeded in getting me to sort through the boxes of personal belongings that I had left with them, after moving to Hong Kong over a decade ago.
There among my childhood books was the original 1968 edition of Best Story Book Ever. I flipped through this comprehensive collection of stories, and the memories came flooding back.
Revisiting Best Story Book Ever as a parent I am amazed that it contains what seems like the entire curriculum for kindergarten. In this collection, are two-page spreads on a variety of subjects, such as shapes, numbers, musical instruments and occupations.
Scarry (1919-1994) created thousands of illustrations and accompanied them with educational narratives. Each item in an illustrated scene is usually named, giving readers a wonderful opportunity to learn some new vocabulary.
With Scarry as a partner, parents can help children to recognise and name many of the things in our everyday world.
Annie Ho is board chairperson of Bring Me A Book Hong Kong bringmeabook.org.hk