What do people do all day? – Richard Scarry

POINTS: 2 out of 10.

Bechdel:  0 points
Variety of characters: 0 points
Good story: 2 points
Discretionary ideological points: 0 points

I remember this book (or one much like it – Scarry was incredibly prolific after all) from my own childhood. And C loved it for the same reasons I did. We spent way more time looking at everything going on in the pictures and talking about that than in actually reading the text of the book.

It is definitely dated, ideologically. I believe some of them have been brought up to date, but if this was one of those, it definitely isn’t clear. The different kinds of work the people are doing fall clearly into gender lines. Women are mostly “Mummies” and where they have ‘real’ jobs, they are things like dressmaking and working in shops or beauty parlours. Family units are pretty “typical” – one mother, one father, and some kids, nicely gender defined with ribbons or braces.

And even when we move away from gender issues, the only thing resembling diversity is “Wild Bill Hiccup and his Buffalomobile”. Wild Bill is about as ikky a stereotype of a Native American you could concoct, and is pretty much straight up racist. (He doesn’t follow rules, is careless, causes accidents, is basically a ‘savage’. Gross.)

I mean, the book has some charm – C and I were both quite taken by the bugdozer – and there is some merit in the style of illustration, where the longer you look, the more you find, but ideologically it’s on pretty dodgy ground. Also, honestly, the “things” these people do all day are fairly dated too – the world isn’t what it was in the 60s, and the kinds of jobs people do are quite different. Some of it is the same, of course, but I can’t help feeling this is a work culture that is of a bygone era. C is probably unlikely to grow up to “become” any of these things. In fact, he’ll probably be something that doesn’t even exist today.

So I have mixed feelings. I have a bit of a soft spot for Scarry from my own childhood, but I can’t help but wonder whether the dated nature of the book has made it fairly irrelevant to modern kids. It was fun to read together, but the experiences in the book are fairly far removed from C’s own.

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