Reviewed in the United States on September 2, 2018
Richard Scarry's Best Little Word Book Ever is everything I hate about children's literature. I know the assumption is, that because something is for kids, the barrier of entry for the quality of a product doesn't need to be very high, since a thing doesn't usually need to be of particularly good quality to hold a child's attention, but I'm not a fan of this assumption.
Don't get me wrong, I'm not expecting all children's authors to be as brilliant as Dr. Suess or Margaret Wise Brown. I do find many of the books I've read to my baby to be irritating, because they seemed to be written by mediocre writers who think stringing together random words that rhyme in a couplet makes for poetry, giving no other thought to structure, stress, or meter, because, you know, "it's for kids, and what do kids know, right?" But even those irritating little children's books don't attract my hatred the way this little word book has.
Removing the self-aggrandizing adjective, "best", this little word book is exactly what it advertises itself to be, a book with words in it. The way it sets itself up isn't what annoys me, it's a fairly basic setup. There's Huckle cat, his sister Sally, and his parents. From the offset, it seems as though it's simply going to be Huckle bringing you through a day in his life, showing you all of the commonplace objects he encounters in his life, day-to-day. We start with the clothes he wears on the first page, the next page we see his house and its rooms, the next page we see the kitchen more closely and the objects you find in the kitchen, on the next page we see him in the car with his family and all the vehicles he may encounter on the road, then we see some the town center, then we see the inside of a supermarket. It's not a grand set-up for a book, but at least there's connective tissue carrying you through from site to site, simply presenting random objects you might see from place to place, and giving you the names for them. It's fairly tedious, and annoying to read, but it's fine. When this book really starts to annoy me, is after the super-market, we simply abandon the character we're introduced to in the beginning entirely, and then we're shown three more random sites with no rhyme or reason: a farm, an airport, and a harbor, which makes no sense, because up until this point, we've been introduced to everyday things through the eyes of Huckle, then suddenly we drop Huckle and are introduced to some random sites, all of which are places most children would never see day to day, and we're given a borderline useless vocabulary to understanding or successfully navigating each of these sites. Then, the book pivots again and we're given four full pages of ABC's, and then the last page of the book brings us back to Huckle with a list of some of his body parts before ending.
While I tend to go easy on children's books, especially books that my baby happens to like me reading to her, this word book is the apotheosis of lazily slapped together children's books, and I have read A LOT of lazy children's books. Richard Scarry put barely any discernible thought at all into constructing a children's word book with any sense of logic or connective tissue, and what tiny little scrap of thought he did put into the foundation of this book is abandoned halfway through.
I honestly don't think I'm asking for much when all I'm wanting out of a children's book is some semblance of connective tissue to hold the images and words included in the book together, or at least a discernible train of logic. A good example of a children's book with seemingly random words and definitions would be A Hold is to Dig, by Ruth Krauss, which is a book full of silly definitions, but the train of logic pulling you from one definition to the other always feels clear. It's organized, guided randomness, if that makes any sense at all. There's a lot of care, and thought that goes into each silly definition, and the next silly definition that comes after it This word book is just thoughtless, chaotic, lazy randomness. And it is everything I hate about the worst children's books have to offer.
Just because it's for children, doesn't mean the author doesn't have to put any thought into it at all.