Ever since Huck Scarry’s father, legendary kid’s writer and illustrator Richard Scarry, died in 1994, Huck’s job has been to keep his father’s work alive. The creator of more than 300 books for children (with at least 100 million copies sold), Richard’s work is iconic: warm, puffy, jovial characters drawn in moments of frantic busyness, dogs and cats and earthworms going about their day.
Huck oversees the reissues of his father’s books, working with various publishers around the world. The new Best Lowly Worm Book Ever! took more work than most of the others to publish. As Huck explains below, his British publisher asked him if there were any books his father had worked on that he never published.
A journalist wants a twisty, enticing story whenever a lost manuscript is discovered—or a lost anything, for that matter. The truth, in the case of Best Lowly Worm Book Ever! is more straightforward: Huck went into the attic of his father’s home in Gstaad, Switzerland (the home where Huck now lives), opened one of his father’s portfolios and found an almost complete manuscript that Huck completed so that Best Lowly Worm Book Ever! could be published.
I talked to Huck recently about his discovery while he was vacationing on Zakynthos, the southernmost island in the Ionian Sea.
How did you come across the manuscript of this book?
Well, it’s really a very simple story. My editors in the U.K., HarperCollins, asked if there might by any chance be anything my father hadn’t published. I very promptly fell upon a gray cardboard portfolio in his house in Gstaad and looked through there and found a whole lot of sketches you couldn’t do anything with. But there was one fairly complete manuscript with some thumbnail sketches and that’s the backbone of this book. It didn’t have a title and we enlarged the format; we enlarged the number of pages. I added to the text my father put in there with one or two teensy weensy pages, but we tried to keep it all his work.
What was it like for you finding the manuscript?
Well, the thing is that I always feel very close and in touch with my father because I’m constantly working with his books. We had a very close relationship and he was a terrific father and I’m reminded of him every day working with his characters. It’s always a challenge for me if I start a new book trying to emulate his characters, his wacky sense of humor, his sense of graphic design and I always hear him over my shoulder praising me or telling me to do it differently.
My father really was a genius and to pick up the stone and carry that forward and to do it at a similar level, is a challenge. I can draw to his style but mine is a little different. I try to emulate his sense of whimsy, but it’s always a challenge. But it’s fun at the same time because I know I’m doing something that he likes to see me doing. I’ve made a few mistakes along the way, but overall I think what I’m doing keeps him and his work very much alive.
Is it difficult to entirely emulate his style of drawing?
To get going, learning how he drew, you can’t just pick up a pencil and do it correctly right away. I’ve been doing this now for…I do it naturally. In the beginning it was a little awkward.
Do you have any idea why your dad never published this book?
No, I really don’t and I don’t know when he did it. It’s not a very old book—I found some other sketches that were older and there was a type of drawing he did earlier. This one looks like a book that was done I would think in the late 80s but I can’t pinpoint it. The sketches were thumbnail sketches and it’s hard to attach them to a particular style of his but the format was the format of what were called knee-high books, a very tall, thin format that could go up to a child’s knee, three times the height of its width.
Are there other manuscripts of his you’ve found over the years or is this the first one?
There haven’t been others. I do have this portfolio but there’s not much more I think I can do anything with in that portfolio. There are some ideas in there but it’s hard to know exactly what to do with them. My father was a very, very busy person. As much work as he wanted to do was there to be done and by and large, I think they were done.
Basically, I had a wonderful time working on it. Lowly is one of my best friends. The characters really are alive in my mind and Lowly’s loads of fun and he’s fun to draw and he’s always in a good mood. If I draw characters who are in a good mood, I’m in a good mood too.Claiborne Smith is the editor-in-chief of Kirkus Reviews.