Tuesday, October 2, 2007

Scarry world.

When I was a child, I, like many other children, had a copy of Richard Scarry's Best Word Book Ever. The book was apparently revised in 1991, and significant, yet subtle changes were made. Some of the changes aren't so bad (like changing out "firefighter" for "fireman"), but others are just plain disappointing, like the elimination of "handsome gentlemen" and "pretty" ladies.

Thanks to the generosity of flickr member kokogiak, we can compare and discuss the differences between the two editions. I particularly enjoyed reading the comments left by others, who, like me, remember the Scarry books fondly and are a bit saddened with some of the changes. Richard Scarry's books, while aimed at children, had just enough kitsch and cutesyness to be appealing to the adults who had to read them to said children.

Here's a comparison of the page describing fire fighters. The 1963 edition is on the left, and the 1991 edition is on the right:

Personally, I liked the "pretty screaming lady," "brave hero" and "jumping gentleman." It's interesting to note that the fire fighter is no longer a brave hero, but is just a fire fighter. In the wake of September 11, 2001, I imagine subsequent reprints will restore hero status to the ascending pig, but the other changes will remain intact.

The elimination of these creative, yet simple labels removes an element of storytelling from what is essentially a rather bland list of words kids should know. A pretty screaming lady being whisked to safety by a brave hero, while a jumping gentleman flies through the air is so much more evocative than "cat in danger" gets rescued by fire fighter. No mention of the raccoon in the purple shirt.

There's an argument to be made that there just aren't enough jumping gentlemen in the world anymore.

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