This year sees the 50th anniversary of Richard Scarry’s Best Word Book Ever. I’ve yet to meet a child who doesn’t love Scarry’s charming, anthropomorphic world, and I know I’m far from the only adult around who adores Scarry and could happyily spend hours perusing his books even at an age that makes me only a few years younger than the book itself.
So I was more than delighted to see that a new edition has been released this year to celebrate the Best Word Book Ever’s half century. It has now become one of those very special titles of which we have more than one edition of in our home, that‘s how good it is.
Having multiple editions means that more people can read the book at the same time, (especially good when it comes to Scarry and pouring over his illustrations!), but in this case it also became the cause of a gripping game that we couldn’t stop playing: SPOT THE DIFFERENCE!
Very quickly it became clear that whilst the two editions are technically the same book, quite substantial changes have been made over time, in terms of vocabulary choices, spellings, moral sensibilities and equal opportunities. Scarry as a primer on societal and linguistic change over 50 years? Yes indeed!
With kind permission from the publishers, I’ve created a gallery of just a few of the changes you can find when comparing the 1967 edition of Richard Scarry’s Best Word Book Ever, with the 2013 edition. I think the best way to view these is to click on the first thumbnail and then you’ll get a large scale image (1000px x 1000px) with pages side by side. From there it is easy to click through to all the other images (I don’t think viewing as a slideshow works so well).
See how many differences you can spot! Of course, it should go without saying that all text and illustrations (c) Richard Scarry Corporation, and should not be reproduced without permission.
Intrigued by the changes, I then interviewed the editor of the 2013 edition, Neil Dunnicliffe, to find out more.
Playing by the book: I guess my first question , Neil, is a general setting the scene one – how did it feel to be editing a classic? I can imagine it’s quite different to editing a brand new book, which doesn’t already have an enormous fan base. Did you grow up with Scarry’s books?
Neil Dunnicliffe: I did grow up with Scarry books and still remember certain spreads from the classic titles (particularly the detailed spreads of vehicles, buildings etc – they were really fascinating to me). I’m still a HUGE fan now. It really is a delight and a privilege to work on these books.
Playing by the book: A large part of Richard Scarry’s charm is the old world feel to the communities he draws – so how do you, as an editor, balance keeping that at the heart of everything, yet modernising it to reflect the 21st century to some degree?
Neil Dunnicliffe: We definitely don’t modernise for the sake of it. I think that Scarry fans, and also his new readers, realise that his books were written and drawn in previous decades and respect that – it’s all part of their charm. The only amendments we’ll make are if a particular phrase or word has changed in meaning over the years and young children would have difficulty understanding the text. We also do a small amount of Anglicisation so that the text is suitable for the UK audience.
Playing by the book: Which edition was your starting point for editing this version? Did you go back to the first edition, or rather did you work mostly from the last published edition. Are there any earlier changes which you’ve reversed or changed yet again?
Neil Dunnicliffe: We tend to work from the last published edition so that we can see any changes that have been made along the way. We also refer to the first edition for a final check. You never know, a previous editor may have been too heavy with the red pencil and there may, in certain circumstances, be text that we’ll want to revert to the original.
Playing by the book: Were there any scenes/words over which there was an especially big debate about whether or not to change? Can you spill the beans?
Neil Dunnicliffe: I don’t think there was anything controversial with this book. Sorry to have no beans to spill!
Playing by the book: How does it work where there appear to be new drawings? Are they taken from elsewhere in Scarry’s oeuvre? Are they newly commissioned drawings (and if so, by whom? his son?)
Neil Dunnicliffe: We don’t tend to include new drawings in the main pages of the books. We may refresh the covers, prelims and end papers but we would always use original Richard Scarry drawings from the actual book for these elements, and these would all be done with the approval of Huck Scarry, Richard’s son.
Playing by the book: Did you work with editors from the US/Canada on this one – or are there completely separate editions for each side of the pond – I notice that there are some words which are decidedly UK (eg ladybird rather than ladybug), but there are quite a lot of US flags peppered about in this new version which are not in my 1967 version.
Neil Dunnicliffe: There are different editions in the US, although the books are, essentially, the same. The only differences will be the covers and a small amount of Anglicisation. I think that Anglicisation is important as we want the books to be as accessible as possible to children in the UK. The Anglicisation tends to be of words rather than pictures.
Every change is approved by Huck Scarry. Huck is a delight to work with – he’s the perfect ambassador for his father’s work.
Playing by the book: Who is your favourite Scarry character?
Neil Dunnicliffe: I like them all, but have a soft spot for Huckle Cat. I also love Mr Frumble and his accident-prone ways.
Playing by the book: Where do you stand more generally with respect to posthumous changes to text and illustration such as those made to books by Blyton, and Pruessler?
Neil Dunnicliffe: I do tend to like my classics as they come. But I think posthumous changes can sometimes help to make a book relevant to new generations (who may then go back to explore more from the author).
Playing by the book: Thanks so much Neil!
So there you have it – an insight not only into editorial control when it comes to refreshing a children’s classic, but also changes in values and language over time. Here’s to another 50 years of The Best Word Book Ever! What changes will we see in 2063?
Fans of Scarry will also want to look out for the newly republished Biggest Word Book Ever – a wonderfully outsized triumph that deserves to be under every Christmas tree later this year, and also Richard Scarry’s Best Lowly Worm Book, a BRAND NEW Scarry book, completed after Richard’s death, by his son, Huck.