Definition #326 Curious

Curious George

                                                                                  Curious George

From Fifi to George

From Hamburg Zoo to Paris

From Reyersbach to

HA Rey

Today is the birthday of H.A. Rey (books by this author), born Hans Augusto Reyersbach in Hamburg, Germany (1898). He grew up near the Hagenbeck Zoo, and spent many happy hours watching and drawing the animals, and learning to imitate their sounds. When he was in his 20s, he moved to Rio de Janeiro, changed his last name to “Rey” because it was easier for Brazilians to pronounce, and went to work selling bathtubs.

It was in Rio that he was reunited with Margret Waldstein, a young artist he’d met back in Hamburg, when Margret was still a girl. She convinced him to leave the bathtub trade and together they opened an advertising agency. They were married in Brazil in 1935. They went to Europe on their honeymoon and decided to move back there, but couldn’t return to Germany because they were both Jews, and by this time the Nazis were in power. The Reys settled in Paris instead, and began collaborating on children’s books, with Margret writing the copy and Hans providing the illustrations.

They were living in Paris when the Second World War broke out. “It seems ridiculous to be thinking about children’s books,” Rey wrote to a friend. “[But] life goes on, the editors edit, the artists draw, even during wartime.” One of their collaborations, Raffy and the Nine Monkeys (1939), is about a lonely giraffe who opens her home to a family of monkeys. The youngest monkey was named Fifi, and he was always getting into scrapes; the Reys liked him so much, they decided to write a book that was just about him.

The Reys were at work on their Fifi book when they found out that the Nazis were going to invade Paris. Rey hastily built two bicycles out of spare parts; he and Margret gathered up a very few belongings — including their manuscript — and left the city just two days before the Nazis invaded, funded by the advance they had received for The Adventures of Fifi. They cycled 75 miles in two days, staying in farmhouses and barns. At one point, they were stopped by an official, who thought they might be German spies. He searched their bag, found the monkey manuscript, and released them. The Reys crossed Spain and Portugal, eventually making their way to Lisbon; from there, they sailed to Brazil, where they made arrangements to move to the United States.

They finally arrived in New York City four months after they’d left Paris, and moved to Greenwich Village. Within a week, they had found a publisher for their monkey book, but the publisher thought “Fifi” was a strange name for a boy monkey, so they changed his name. Curious George was published in 1941, and the Reys wrote and illustrated six more stories about him — stories like Curious George Rides a Bike (1952) and Curious George Goes to the Hospital (1966). Each book begins the same way: “George was a good little monkey, but he was always very curious.”

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