One of the most memorable and charismatic characters in children’s literature, Curious George was the creation of the talented husband-and-wife team H. A. and Margret Rey, who fled Nazi Germany for America. Their lovable monkey (and his mischievous exploits) have entertained several generations of readers.
In their nearly 40-year-long professional collaboration, the husband-and-wife team of Margret and H. A. Rey created one of the most memorable figures in 20th-century children’s literature: Curious George, the little monkey with an insatiable appetite for adventure.
The Reys, like George, had tremendous zest for travel and new experience. Both were born in Germany, H. A. (Hans Augusto) in 1898, and Margret (Margarete Elisabeth Waldstein) in 1906. Although the two became acquainted in their homeland, they fell in love after each moved to Rio de Janeiro, where they married in 1935. Their honeymoon led them to Paris, where Hans published his first book for children, Cecily G. and the Nine Monkeys, introducing Curious George as a peripheral character.
In 1940 the Reys, both of whom were Jewish, fled Paris as the Nazis mounted their invasion of the city, making their way by bicycle to Spain, by train to Lisbon, then to Brazil, New York City, and finally Cambridge, Massachusetts, where they made their home. The few belongings they carried with them from Europe included the manuscript of Curious George, which Houghton Mifflin published in 1941. Together they created six more classic Curious George adventures: Curious George Flies a Kite, Curious George Gets a Medal, Curious George Learns the Alphabet, Curious George Goes to the Hospital, Curious George Rides a Bike, and Curious George Takes a Job.
Like Babar, Bambi, Pippi Longstocking, and countless other children’s book characters, George is, for all purposes, an orphan, one who was separated from his family. (He was kidnapped, in fact, by The Man with the Yellow Hat, who has gained his own degree of fame through the series.) Admonished to stay home and be good, George invariably lets his curiosity get the better of him and winds up in some kind of trouble every time: in jail, on a runaway cow, kidnapped by circus promoters, or in the hospital. In a possible nod to the Reys’s own hair-raising escape from the Nazis, every story involves an antic chase scene. And every story ends in a happy reunion with the man with the yellow hat, who is George’s trainer, keeper, teacher, disciplinarian, and parental figure.
According to their publisher, the Reys were not just a writer/designer team. Although Hans was primarily focused on ideas and illustrations, and Margret on writing, their work often overlapped. The result was pure magic. The Curious George books transcend time and space, driven by a sincere understanding of the forces that propel children: curiosity, resourcefulness, and love of home.
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H. A. Rey also independently produced a series of astronomy books (including Find the Constellations), and Margret wrote Pretzel, about a dachshund, and Spotty, about a rabbit, with H. A. Rey’s illustrations. They lived in Cambridge, Massachusetts until their deaths, H. A. Rey’s in 1977 and Margret Rey’s in 1996.
Margret's name does not appear on some of the earlier Curious George collaborations because, she said, "When we first came to America our publisher suggested we use my husband's name because the children's book field was so dominated by women. They thought it would sell better. After a time I thought 'why the devil did I do that?' So since then my name has appeared also."