Boston – Richard Scarry, and what we can learn from children’s books

My school English was rusty, my scientific English quite usable, when we, a family of three, left Darmstadt for Boston for two years. Research in the Department of Chemistry at Harvard University. That was in 1988 – our first move to a foreign country, the start of an expat life.

We quickly realized that the vocabulary of scientific English was of little help when shopping. My wife was inventive and discovered Richard Scarry’s “Best Word Book Ever”, the 1960 edition in the 1980 reprint. What kind of luck was that?

We not only learned the translated word for “Blumenkohl” (cauliflower) and other vegetables, but also discovered a lot of cultural peculiarities in it, for example:

  • Farms are always red and picturesque and for breakfast there are pancakes or eggs with bacon.
  • Trick-or-Treat and Jack-o’-lantern, Halloween is the biggest holiday of the year for children – after Christmas, perhaps.
  • Kleine Eier (small eggs) are always large eggs, because nobody uses the word “small” here. The three size classes here are large, extra-large and giant. “Can I have the large egg, please?” and you get the small one.
  • Oh yes, and the American flag should not be missing in the children’s book.


Our first expat adventure had daily surprises in store for us at the beginning. And we also learned something new every day. And we made friends – with a one-year-old “toddler” these friendships begin, perhaps as in many places in the world, in the sandbox of a public playground. There is also a page for this at Richard Scarry, “At the Playground” on page 12.

In any case, an important experience remained in our memory. If you go to a foreign country, it’s best to get the children’s literature. That helps.

And which book do you read far from home?

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