What Do People Do All Day? An Amazing Book by Richard Scarry

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Yellow illustrated front cover of Busytown in Richard Scarry's What do People do All Day?
What Do People Do All Day?
Which Richard Scarry read-aloud should you pick if you want to share an unforgettable time with your kid?

This may sound like a simple question, but the answer is far from obvious.

Admittedly, Scarry is so famous that he does not need an introduction.

But a cursory glance at his output - 300 books in total - begs the question: Where should you start?

Scarry's books are very diverse ... from story books to coloring books, from board books to pop-up books with little flaps.

Look hard enough and you will find what you are seeking.

Admittedly, some of them work better as read-alouds and others work better as 'read-alones'.

This year I found out the ultimate read-aloud pleasure  - reading a Richard Scarry book aloud to my twins.

So, if you haven't tried yet - Read Aloud Dad says take the plunge!

Although Richard Scarry's What Do People Do All Day? was in our house for more than a year, shamefacedly I have to admit we never read it aloud.

In fact, it was only during our recent summer holidays - earlier this month - that I first considered it as a read-aloud.

My mistake!

Get Busy in Busytown

All things are difficult before they are easy Thomas Fuller

There is no other way to describe it - my twins simply adore Scarry's Busytown.

The land of dreams.

oval shaped logo of Richard Scarry's BusytownThis little fictional town that hosts hundreds of anthropomorphic animals who are all active like ants, rushing to work, hurrying back home, going to school, building roads and travelling by train.

What Do People Do All Day? is a collection of work-related stories, all of which take place in Busytown.

You will be pressed to find which story in this book is more interesting to kids:

a. Building a new house
b. Everyone is a worker
c. Mailing a letter
d. Firemen to the rescue
e. A visit to the hospital
f. The train trip
g. The story of seeds and how they grow
h. Wood and how we use it
i. Building a new road
j. A voyage on a ship
k. Where bread comes from

This book is a feast for young eyes.

It is as if they have the whole wide world in their little laps and they control the destinies of everyone in it.

Control - that's what kids crave and that's exactly what Richard Scarry delivers.

You can analyze this buzzing world of workers and teachers and milkmen and carpenters - at your own pace.

If you want to rush through it or simply to peer at the details, everything is allowed.

But, what will really make this world come alive for your kid - is narration.
sample page from the book showing farmer Alfalfa in Everyone is a Worker story
sample page from
Richard Scarry's Busytown

Yes, sharing this book with a grown-up will make Busytown glitter like Las Vegas.

For example, kids leafing through this book understand that there is order behind the seeming mayhem of the "Where Bread Comes From" story.

Yet, the events need to be explained, questions need to be answered - if you want true learning to take place in those cute little heads.

Scarry's genius is that he does not hide the intricacy of real jobs - in fact, he shows them in their full complexity.

Richard Scarry requires just four full color pages to illustrate how bread is made from the moment wheat is harvested.

Check it out:

Farmer Pig starts out the process by using his crop harvester to gather his wheat crop. Grain seeds are separated from stalks and the seeds are then poured into a truck.

The wheat grain seeds are scooped out with a bucket loader by farm hand Raccoon and then packed into bags by farmer helpers Dog and Pig.

The bags are then are stacked into a new truck which is driven by farmhand Owl down to the wheat mill.

At the flour mill, bags are hoisted by Miller Pig to the top of the mill, where the miller pours the seeds into the hopper (don't ask!).
Carpenter Pig

Seeds are then crushed between the grindstones operated by Miller Cat.

The fabulous Richard Scarry also lets us see in great detail how water power from a waterwheel turns the top grindstone that crushes the seeds.

A small raccoon, who works next to the grindstones, is sharpening a spare grindstone.

Sifters Pig and Raccoon separate the soft flour - contained in binds - from the seed's hard outer shell and the flour is then packed into bags again.

The bags are sewn closed and then they are put onto trucks that has to take them to the bakery.

The bakers - a fox, a dog, a cat and three pigs, will now mix water, salt and yeast with the flour to create bread dough. The dough is kneaded until it is well mixed and our hard-working bakers now mold it into loeaves of different sizes and shapes.

Ovens are fired up and loaves are transferred to the hot ovens where they puff up even more.

Yes.... making bread ends here - take a deep breath - in just four richly illustrated pages out of this 63-page book.

But Scarry's illustrations have made this process so clear that you are now debating with your kids about intricate details of waterwheels, wheat mills and harvesters.

They will want to know how does water power grinding stones, why is yeast added to dough and why is it baked in ovens.

Oh, the beauty of such questions!

All the other stories are equally involving and they provide fertile ground for many rounds of questions, answers and for discussion.

So, take it easy and do not rush through with the narrative. If there are no questions from your listeners, ask yourself have you been reading too fast?

Read Aloud With Your Brain

The only thing that interferes with my learning is my education Albert Einstein

I would love to tell you that I teached my twins many things with the help of this book.

It would not be true.

What really happened was that Richard Scarry was the one who taught all three of us.

This is a book that will occupy your "little grey cells" too.

Do you know the intricate details of how a new road is made to connect two towns? Maybe you do, Read Aloud Dad didn't.

Are you knowledgeable about the inside operations of a flour mill? Read Aloud Dad wasn't.

How are trees felled and the wood processed? I just learned it for the first time.

Give your tongue a rest, give your brain an exercise.

Scarry's books, which have sold over 100 million copies and been translated into 30 languages, always reflected his own curiosity about the world.

"Wherever I go, I'm watching," he liked to say. "Even on vacation, when I'm in an airport or a railroad station, I look around, snap pictures, and find out how people do things."

After reading this Scarry book, although I never built a house - now I feel as if I could.

Learning was so enjoyable for all three of us - so much so that my kids kept asking me about the things we learned in Richard Scarry's What Do People Do All Day? long after we finished reading.

Alas this edition that is available today (the one that I have too) is an abridged version of Richard Scarry's original work.

As far as I've been able to see - the original version had 90+ pages and it included four more stories.

Not a smart decision by the publisher - as all the stories are great fun. I cannot believe that there was a good reason to cut them out of the book.

According to a number of reviews that I read, the missing stories include a yarn about a stay-at-home mom, water treatment plants, generation of electricity and a seemingly exciting story about the the Busytown policeman.

There are certain less apparent differences between Scarry's original and the new edition, which have been partially catalogued by Kokogiak on Flickr. Check out his comparison of The Best Word Book Ever in 1963 and 1991 - a fascinating glimpse into the workings of the PC (political correctness) brigade.

Yet, don't let this fact undermine the importance of this book. It is a must-read for families that have curious children = all families.

Hopefully you will be able to find an unabridged edition somewhere - although I think it is no longer in print.

"I'm not interested in creating a book that is read once and then placed on the shelf and forgotten," Richard Scarry once said.

"I am very happy when people write that they have worn out my books, or that they are held together by Scotch tape. I consider that the ultimate compliment," he added.

So, parents get your scotch tapes ready, if you haven't yet invited Richard Scarry into your read aloud world.

Richard Scarry's What Do People Do All Day? is available from bookstores in the US:


The Book Depository (free worldwide shipping)

and from other countries:

Amazon UK
Amazon CA
Amazon DE


  1. Thanks for being a subscriber! I love your blog too. Have you joined We
    Teach? It's a fun place to connect, learn, and share.

  2. I really enjoyed your post Michelle and I loved the idea that you mentioned - saving books for your grandchildren. 

    You know, it crossed my mind as well. I usually try to buy hardcovers - for this reason precisely. 

    Love your blog .. I've been an email subscriber for a long time now!

    Read Aloud Dad

    Re: Michelle Breum 

  3. He is a star indeed! 

    Love the way Scarry includes all these charming characters in his books. Created a world of his own ... and kids adore it!

    Thanks so much for taking the time to leave a comment!

    Read Aloud Dad

    Re: thedamselindisdress 

  4. I made a post two days ago with a list of my kids favorite books when they were young. I knew they were our favorites from the worn pages and tape. I'm glad to know this book is still in print. Too bad some original stories were taken out.

  5. Awww! I love Lowly Worm.

  6. It is indeed. It reminds me a bit of a little kid's version of David Macauley's The Way Things Work - but not for gadgets - for entire jobs.

    It also serves as a form of introduction to the intricacies of a capitalist  economy.

    Oh yes, and I just checked again out the exciting Top 100 list! 

    I have mixed feeling when I see it: I feel sad when I see a book we haven't read or we do not own and happy when I see a book did read or own.

    Yet, I KNOW it should be the other way round.

    I should be happy to see excellent books that are still available for us to read! 

    So, in the name of all the great books waiting to be read - thanks so much for the list! Parents - check the Top 100 Picture Books out over at PragmaticMom!

    Thanks so much @2f04fd44b02f5004c4fadc411b33b1aa !

     Read Aloud Dad

  7. This is such a great book. I am shocked that I never owned it. It's #44 on the Top 100 Best Picture Books by the Children's Book Guide (http://www.pragmaticmom.com/?p=18927 )

  8. Wise words indeed!

    How can children learn about the past if we keep modelling it according to the present day. 

    As you say, children will soon be unable to fully understand the dark side of our history, if we simply eliminate it from our children's books. 

    I'm with you 100%.

    Read Aloud Dad

  9. Oh how sad that it has been abridged!  If indeed it is the result of the PC police, then their sanitizing of the past keeps our children from fulling understanding the dark side of our history.

  10. Hi Mimi,

    So you are a Richard Scarry aficionado as well! 

    Yep, that busy little world is undeniably magnetic - it simply draws us readers in, without exception.

    Thanks so much for your kind words!

    Read Aloud Dad

    Re: @a505237bf4af53e4f97a21bb77ffa91e 

  11. Hi Alison, 

    I knew that Richard Scarry was on to something when he mentioned that scotch tape!

    He was talking about you and your family! So happy that you enjoy them too.

    Many thanks for taking the time to leave a comment!

    Read Aloud Dad

    Re: @81460b3dbf12aed7c03a7fb3588a313f 

  12. I remember reading this book to my children. From a children author

  13. Hi WIliam! 

    Thanks for your message ... it's a great book to read to one's kids, isn't it?

    Richard Scarry is a mastermind of subversive children's literature. On every page, there is something extraordinary happening! 

    And kids simply adore things that are out of the ordinary!

    Read Aloud Dad

    Re: William Sawyers