Richard Scarry's What Do People Do All Day?

Common Sense Media says

Engaging classic makes work delightful.





What parents need to know

Educational value
Each section is a simple, fun procedural on a different job or subject, showing how the work is done, why, and who benefits from it. It's a fantastic book for children learning to follow steps and make connections. 
Positive messages

The book declares that everyone is a worker and asks young readers: "What do YOU do? Are you a good helper?" The sections celebrate teams working together and show how diverse jobs are connected to one another and the community. 

Positive role models

The workers in Busytown are all smiling, and their work is focused on helping residents -- such as delivering the mail, putting out fires, and smoothing bumpy roads. The story even encourages children to be good helpers themselves and highlights teamwork.

Violence & scariness

Firefighters save a calm and unconcerned child from a house fire, chopping through the playroom door with an ax. Two cars collide as they brake at a train crossing. A small fishing boat sinks in stormy weather, but the crew is rescued.

Not applicable

Parents Need to Know

Parents need to know that Richard Scarry's What Do People Do All Day? offers 11 short sections (or mini-chapters) packed with details illuminating different types of different jobs and, importanly, how workers in different fields rely on one another to do their work, care for their families, and support their community. The book's a bit outdated: Many jobs have been transformed by technology, and the gender stereotyping is antiquated (in Busytown circa 1968, most jobs are held by men, and one mom is rewarded with a new dress for taking such good care of the house). Several sections in the original book, including one about a stay-at-home mom and another on a coal plant, are omitted from the abridged version.

What's the story?

The first section's story introduces Farmer Alfalfa, who keeps some of the food he's grown for his family and sells the rest to Grocer Cat. This simple transaction sets off a chain of events: Alfalfa uses the money he's made to buy a suit from the tailor, a tractor from the blacksmith to expand his business, and gifts for his family, and puts the rest in the bank. The tailor, in turn, buys an egg beater, the blacksmith buys more iron for his shop. From there, the book explores the type of work done in diverse areas: construction, firefighting, a hospital, the postal service, train and ocean travel, farming, lumber, road construction, and a bakery.

Is it any good?

RICHARD SCARRY'S WHAT DO PEOPLE DO ALL DAY? is a beloved classic, richly layered with details children will enjoy and learn from for years. Scarry clears away some of the mystery about the adult world and explains the basics of how an economy works -- and makes it fun! Action-packed illustrations, crowded with familiar and funny Busytown characters, double as diagrams. A house, for example, is stripped to its frame to show the water and heating systems and wiring. A tree in the forest travels through a sawmill to become a board for Daddy Pig's bookcase, while others provide paper, boats, furniture, and fruit. 
Young kids will savor the illustrations long after hearing the stories read aloud. They'll love searching for Lowly Worm and Bananas Gorilla on each spread and discovering the silly touches: the bull's-eye on the firefighters' safety net, Goldbug the cricket driving a bulldozer, a mouse swinging happily in the ship's mailroom. First published in 1968, the book shows its age with outdated occupations and passé gender stereotypes. But grown-ups can seize the chance to talk about how much has changed, and use the book as a springboard to talk about workers in our communities today.

Families can talk about...

  • Families can talk about the kind of work they do, at home and in their careers. Ask kids: What kind of jobs would you like to do when you're an adult?

  • What kind of work does everyone in the family do at home? How is it helpful?

  • Talk about the workers you interact with every day, and how they do their jobs.

Book details

Author:Richard Scarry
Illustrator:Richard Scarry
Genre:Picture Book
Topics:Cars and trucks, Cats, dogs, and mice, Trains
Book type:Fiction
Publisher:Random House Books for Young Readers
Publication date:March 12, 1968
Number of pages:64
Publisher's recommended age(s):3 - 7
Read aloud:3 - 7
Read alone:6 - 7
Available on:Hardback

This review of Richard Scarry's What Do People Do All Day? was written by

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  • ON: Content is age-appropriate for kids this age.
  • PAUSE: Know your child; some content may not be right for some kids.
  • OFF: Not age-appropriate for kids this age.
  • NOT FOR KIDS: Not appropriate for kids of any age.

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Learning ratings

  • Best: Really engaging; great learning approach.
  • Very Good: Engaging; good learning approach.
  • Good: Pretty engaging; good learning approach.
  • Fair: Somewhat engaging; OK learning approach.
  • Not for Learning: Not recommended for learning.
  • Not for Kids: Not age-appropriate for kids; not recommended for learning.

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