When Alan Taylor, senior editor at The Atlantic was reading to his kids, he noticed something unusual.
He was reading The Best Word Book Ever by renowned children’s author Richard Scarry, whose animal-populated worlds have charmed generations of children. In fact, Alan had a copy of the book himself as a child.
But as he was reading it, he noticed some changes. He immediately compared his kids’ copy — published in 1991 — with the copy he remembered — published in 1963.
It turns out that Richard Scarry, who has authored more than 300 books for kids since 1949, has also been updating his works from time to time.
As the decades have progressed and so has society, Scarry has been making changes to update and modernize the books’ depictions of gender roles and ethnicities.
That way, kids grow up with modern, inclusive ideas rather than outdated ones that might be hurtful. After all, we’re always learning something new — as vintage advertisements tell us all the time!
Alan decided to record these changes, and in doing so show us how the world has changed — but also how much it hasn’t. It’s still a world in which a gardening rabbit and a cat pushing a stroller are eternally loveable!
Because he loved the book so much as a child, Alan immediately noticed that the 1991 edition had some pretty obvious changes. Most of the updates reflected the changes in society, many in reference to gender equality.
Over the years, both the images and the text have been updated. For example, the wording here has been changed to imply that this male bear can make his own breakfast.
And this illustration shows Mom and Dad working together in the kitchen, as traditional gender roles had shifted and evolved between 1963 and 1991.
In addition, the holiday section was updated to be a little more inclusive.
Other illustrations were simply given little makeovers to show that girls can do anything boys can do.
On the playground, the characters' genders were switched up, too, as the sexes became less strictly separated.
The page on jobs has changed, too. While the teacher was switched from a female to a male, other occupations — like a train conductor and a soldier — were swapped out for a photographer and a judge. It's hard to say exactly why this was done.
Some of the 1963 edition's language was pretty silly by the standards of later decades. The cat in the window was originally a "beautiful screaming lady" being rescued by a "brave hero."
Some changes, though, don't seem to make sense at all. The name of this sailboat has been changed, and its flag has disappeared.
It’s always strange to see childhood classics change. But society, and the people in it, grow and evolve with the passage of time, and that’s okay!
If you loved Richard Scarry books, SHARE this with your fellow fans of kids’ literature and take a peek back in time.