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Books of Trades

Author Rita Smith
Air Date 3/13/2005

Books of Trades Transcript

What Do People Do all Day? is the title of a book by Richard Scarry published in 1968. It is a recent example of a long line of children’s books, which began appearing in the mid 18th century called books of trades, giving accounts and pictures of tradesmen at work. The Scarry book is bubbly, full of antic workers, in a variety of uniforms, scampering around being very busy. They do live in Busytown, after all. Although earlier authors gave a more sobering presentation, they all attempt to give the young reader information about the world of work. What do people do all day? What does a fireman do? A mattress maker, a baker, a wheel- wright?

The books illustrate how laborers work together to produce the products and services used every day. Scarry has a two page spread on “Cotton and how we use it,” which describes all the workers, machines, and skills involved in producing the clothes we wear. It isn’t much different from a section in The Book of Trades, published in 1811, on straight pins where the author describes in great detail the activities and skills of the 25 workmen who are successively employed in [the production of] each pin.1

The books of trades also stress the importance of industry and give honest labor the praise it is due. In What Do People Do all Day?, the first section after a welcome to Busytown, declares in large print “Everyone is a worker!” Exclamation point. In a volume of The Book of Trades, published in 1804, the author praises work and the working man by telling the story of two men, an idle rich man and a poor basket-maker, who are stranded on a distant island inhabited by natives. The rich man, who has never worked a day in his life, feels helpless and begins to wring his hands in despair; but the poor man, ever accustomed to labor, makes elegant wreaths out of the local reeds which so enchant the members of the tribe, that they all want them, providing the basket-maker with continual employment. In return for the pleasure which the wreaths give them, the natives shower him with food and build him a fine hut. But the rich man, who possesses neither talents to please nor strength to labor, is the basket-maker’s lowly servant. “Such,” the author pointedly concludes, ” are the advantages of industry.”2

These books all satisfy a child’s curiosity about the world of work and they help him think about the world beyond the nursery; to realize that the things he uses every day, coats, books, straight pins do not appear by magic but are the result of many people working together.

1 The Book of Trades, or, Library of Useful Arts, part III, 1811, p. 43.
2 The Book of Trades or Library of Useful Arts, part I, 1804, p. 27-30.

The Book of Trades, or, Library of Useful Arts, part I, London: Printed for Tabart and Co., 1804.
The Book of Trades, or, Library of Useful Arts, part III, London: Printed for R. Phillips. 1811.
Scarry, Richard. What Do People Do All Day? New York: Random House. 1968

Posted in Literature