Have I mentioned that my parents are immigrants whose first language is not English? Did I also mention that TV was not allowed on weekdays in our house? And that I went to a French school? Nearly all of my young English language and grammar skills came from recess and books. A picture dictionary was essential for my early language development. My parents, in their infinite wisdom, made sure that my sister and I had two: the Doctor Suess Dictionary (which I can’t find, and therefore can’t review), and Richard Scarry’s Storybook Dictionary.
As a child, I loved this dictionary. I remember pulling it off the shelf many, many times, just to see how the characters were doing. The inside cover and the title page are actually just a visual Cast of Characters: The Pig family, the Cat Family, the Bunny Family, Bully Bobcat, Doctor Pill and Nurse Nora, Superbee, the Scotties (Heather, Haggis and Macintosh), and about twenty more. Throughout the book you learn a little something about all of their personalities as they demonstrates various dictionary words. Mamma Bear is terrible in the kitchen (“Mamma Bear put the ice cream on the stove instead of in the refrigerator. The ice cream melted“) and Father Cat has little sense (“When Father Cat got off the train, he got out his umbrella. He forgot how to open it, so he got wet”). And if some of the characters are not quite PC (Chief Five Cent, the buffalo, and his daughter Penny; The Three Beggars in their raggedy clothes and dirty faces; and no working moms in this book!), the stories and foibles of the animals are fun enough to keep a small child rereading this book despite her intense dislike of alphabetical order (don’t ask, but it’s true).
The cover clearly states that there are over 2500 words, but my childhood self barely noticed the learning. I would flip from page to page reading only about the Bear Family. On another day, I would only be interested in Hilda the Hippo. Or maybe Ali Cat and his mouse friend, or Dingo the Dog. I’m not going to say that Richard Scarry taught me English (my parents do, after all, speak English). But I will say that I found myself flipping nostalgically through this dictionary last night and recalling the characters (mis)adventures; a sure sign that Mr. Scarry taught me something.
I’ve seen that Richard Scarry now has smaller “books of words”, which are – no doubt – less intimidating than “full sized” dictionaries of 2500 words. They are also theme-based – so that if I don’t like firetrucks or don’t care what people do, I can get another book and not bother to learn firetruck or job words. Well, that’s all very well, but I don’t think it’s necessary to water down an illustrated storybook, and I would recommend that a parent (or well-meaning friend) take the time to find a second-hand copy of this, the original, full-sized, and unabridged Storybook Dictionary.
Reading Ages: Pre-school and early readers (to be read to, and to read)
A Particularly Funny Quote: “Little Chick’s first words were “Bow Wow!””