Carnegie Science Center
June 13 through September 8, 2002
By M. A.Jackson
Hilda Hippo's gone waltzing off
to the grocery store and Huckle Cat is working hard in the shipyard. Look
over there...it's Sergeant Murphy assisting Mr. Frumble chase his hat
across the street. But where's Lowly Worm? Is he working in the
construction area? Is he reading a
book at the library? Can you find Lowly Worm?
That's not just the story in a Richard Scarry book, it's
Busytown come to life-- a
5,000-square-foot exhibit opening June 13, at Carnegie Science Center. Here
the offbeat, educational world Scarry created in his beloved books comes to
life with life-size graphics of his most well-known characters. This
lively, colorful, three-dimensional "city"--complete with grocery
store, factory, shipyard, power plant, and construction area--promotes the
themes of cooperation, interconnected systems, and role-playing found throughout Scarry's
Aimed at children ages 2 to 10, each area of Busytown is filled with hands-on
activities to explore: there are gears to turn, cranes to operate, pulleys
to yank, structures to build, and air hoses to be activated. In Busytown,
children experience how objects behave and how their own actions affect the
world around them. The open-ended nature of the exhibit's materials allows
creativity to flourish. In essence, Busytown
is a Scarry book come to life.
But the exhibit's not all play. Dallas DiLeo, head
librarian of the Children's Department at Carnegie Library, Oakland, says Busytown addresses prescience
skills...the foundation of scientific process. "If you aren't
wondering and questioning 'what if' at age 3 or 4, then by the time you're
6, the idea of hypothesizing is going to be foreign," says DiLeo.
"This is a great hook to use [Scarry's] characters in this way. It
will get kids asking questions, investigating, and predicting."
activities are based on the following principals: science is a process,
every child will approach these activities in a unique way, open-ended
questions stimulate thought, and play is the best way for children to
learn. To assist parents with these principals, information on how children
process information and strategies to encourage natural inquisitiveness are
provided throughout the exhibit.
One suggestion is to ask children questions that can't
be answered with a simple "yes" or "no." Instead pose
questions that require thought: "What can you do with these
things?" "Why do you think that happened?" "What will
happen if you...?"
Scarry's books have been popular for two generations
because of similar questions liberally peppered throughout each book. Scarry
was big on asking the reader what was going on in his drawings and how they
felt about them: "What do you want to buy at the store?"
"What is your favorite animal at the zoo?" "What do you
think might happen next?" These types of questions help spark a
child's imagination and inquisitive nature.
Scarry did more than just write books, he drew
them--more than 100 between 1949 and his death in 1994. Each book was
filled with bright colors, active little animal characters, and lots of
details. Light on text, the books were cartoon-like glimpses of the world a
child might observe every day: from the schoolroom and city streets to the
dentist office and construction site.
"He was kind of revolutionary in that he wasn't
telling a story like other children's writers at the time were," says
DiLeo. "Any book with such incredibly detailed pictures that you can
plunge into is wonderful.
the prescience skills of children--the foundation of the scientific
You can look at the same page over and over and see new
things...it's so absorbing. Children love that aspect of his books."
Scarry's books were first published in the late 50s--a
time when children were quickly defecting from traditional books to the flashing
visuals of the TV screen. But
Scarry's almost plotless, image-driven books captured children's attention
in a way that seemed to echo the busyness occurring on the small screen,
yet in a more educational manner.
"In Richard Scarry's world
nonreaders can create stories to accompany pictures and diagrams, or
parents can read the text to a child as a fun, interactive activity."
One quality of Scarry's books most appreciated by
parents was that the books could be enjoyed two ways: nonreaders could
peruse them alone and create a story to accompany the pictures and
diagrams, or a parent could read the text to a child as a fun, interactive
activity. As DiLeo says, books that promote interaction, as Scarry's books
do, are very important in helping to expand a child's language experience
and understanding. "There has to be a conversation along with the
book," she says. The Busytown exhibit
can be enjoyed the same way--you can let the kids loose to explore and play
on their own, or you can join them for a few hours of interactive fun.
For years Scarry illustrated the books of other writers,
including those of his wife, Patsy.
In 1951, Scarry wrote his first book: The Great Car and Truck Book, featuring human characters, not
the athropomorphized animals that became his trademark. By the time of his
big break--1963's Richard Scarry's
Best Word Book Ever--he was concentrating on drawing cute animal
characters. "Because it is more fun," Scarry replied when asked
why he used animals instead of people. "Fun for me, fun for kids, fun
for adults who have to read and reread these books to nonreaders." He
added that drawing animals also allowed him to create more characters.
Scarry's books have sold more than 100 million copies
and have been printed in 30 languages. Richard
Scarry's Best Word Book Ever, featuring 1,400-plus labeled objects,
sold seven million copies in 12 years.
According to Walter Retan and Ole Risom's biography, The Busy, BusyWorld of Richard Scarry,
in the 1970s Scarry's books were outselling Dr. Seuss. But while the kids
loved him, parents were beginning to question if Scarry was teaching
stereotypes as well as words.
"He was showing a very 50s type of life," says
DiLeo. "The moms were in dresses, and the construction workers were always
men. In the early 70s people were stomping their feet and making a big
to-do over this. Parents were
saying, 'How will we change the world if the lady cats are always in
According to DiLeo, Scarry didn't have an agenda, he was
just behind the times. And, to his credit, Scarry quickly responded to
gender-bias criticisms by revising The
Best Word Book Ever. The updated
version features female farmers and mechanics and men cooking and caring
Despite the criticism, Scarry's creatures--such as Lowly
Worm and Bananas Gorilla--have endured.
They are still very popular," DiLeo says of the books. They are
timeless, and people ask for them. They remember them from their
There's no better test of popularity than commercial success.
While not as ubiquitous as Mickey Mouse or Winnie the Pooh, Scarry's
creatures have their own cartoon show, grace a myriad of collectibles, are
featured on videos and CD-ROMS, and have been turned into stuffed animals
and action figures. In 1995 McDonalds sold a "Happy Meal"
containing toys of Scarry's characters. In 2000, New Organics Company
debuted a children's food line with cookies in the shape of his characters
and packaging emblazoned with his illustrations.
And now there's the Richard Scarry's Busytown exhibit at Carnegie Science
Center--a really excellent choice for parents and children in this busy
Go to Work in
children begin to learn real-world skills.
Here are the main components:
GROCERY STORE: Basic math concepts are the focus here.
Children can weigh, sort, match, compare, count, and sell
"produce" using a scale, calculator, and abacus. There are
shopping baskets for loading items onto a hand-operated conveyor belt
before they are transported into a produce truck. And you can ride around
in the pickle car.
FACTORY: Explore the physics of movement and cause and
effect by fitting variously shaped blocks into corresponding holes, sending
balls along switchbacks, negotiating the factory's four-level climbing structure,
transporting items in buckets via a pulley, and moving materials on a
SHIPYARD: Learn about mechanical physics at work by
turning the wheels of
the gantry crane and maneuvering block cargo from the
waiting freighter ship to a flatbed railroad car. There are also trains,
tunnels, and railroad track.
POWER PLANT: Experience aerodynamics--the
characteristics of air and wind--with windmills, air hoses, wind chimes,
windsocks, pinwheels, and whistles.
CONSTRUCTION AREA: Discover the concepts of
architectural engineering--size, weight, shape, balance, gravity, and
stability--as you design and build three-dimensional structures using giant
tinker toys and PVC pipe pieces, wheelbarrows, cranes, and pick-up trucks.
READING AND BLOCK AREA: Spend some quiet time with books
Scarry and other children's authors. Or discover the
concepts involved in building as you design and erect structures out of a
variety of hardwood and soft foam building blocks.
COMPUTER STATIONS: Children are challenged to think,
make choices, and learn at the four computer stations scattered throughout Busytown. Software programs support
the exhibit's themes and concepts.
VIDEO KIOSKS: Watch four cartoons from The Busy World of Richard Scarry,
the animated TV series. Each video has a different theme illustrating the
infrastructure of a community--how mail is delivered, how windmills make
electricity, how phones work, how we get water and electricity in our
homes, and how elevators work.
PARENT STATIONS: Scattered throughout Busytown are kiosks that provide
information for parents and teachers on how to help children get the most
out of the activities.