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World Book Day: Remembering Richard Scarry’s Storybook Dictionary

For World Book Day, copywriter Paul remembers an old favourite and wonders: Can the books we love when little influence the career paths we take? 


From kisses to records to foreign holidays, we’re supposed to remember our firsts. I can’t claim to remember the first book I ever had, but the first I can remember was a pretty remarkable one. 

Richard Scarry’s Storybook Dictionary. Even now, flicking back through the pages brings a grin to my face. The curiously-named menagerie of characters getting in all manner of scrapes brought words to life, expanding my vocabulary and improving my spelling.  

Of course, it wasn’t just the words: the balance between text and image was also beautifully judged, working together with warmth and an understated humour. On reflection too, some of the jokes probably work better on me in my 40s than when I was 4. 

Either way, it’s almost certainly the only dictionary I can claim to have read (and re-read), rather than simply referred (and deferred) to.  

Can the books we read as children shape our future careers? 

They say our firsts shape us. So, could it be that my career as a copywriter was in some way influenced by Mr Scarry’s genius?  

The concept of bibliographic determinism sounds pleasingly plausible. But there’s a hitch. Think of all the children whose first book was a picture book, but who didn’t end up as designers, or even painters and decorators. Think too of the generation of kids who grew up with Mr Men and Little Miss books, at least some of which were bestowed on children based on their infant behaviour. For instance, I remember my sister telling everyone how unfair it was that she had been given Little Miss Chatterbox. 

In my situation too, I should point out I had a second Scarry tome in my bookshelves: Cars and Trucks and Things That Go. And if cars were left solely in my hands to maintain, they wouldn’t be going far at all.  

So, do our first books really shape us? Almost certainly… but as much because they open the door to the magic of reading. The sooner that world is opened to children, the better.  

If you didn’t have the privilege of exploring the busy, busy world of Richard Scarry as a kid, take a look at And next time you’re trying to think about what to buy a youngster, track down some of those books, even as secondhand versions, to expand their little minds!

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