Author Study – Margret and H.A. Rey
Margret and H.A. Rey are well known authors of the popular children’s series starring Curious George. What is not so well known about them is why these books and others they have written contain the themes that they do. Margret and H.A. Rey had a very rich and tumultuous life before publishing their first children’s book. Their Jewish heritage during an age of war against Jews and the subsequent escape by bike to safety inspired a lot of George’s narrow escapes from trouble after being too curious. They are husband and wife and also a fully self-dependent author illustrator team. The illustrations across all of their books reflect a particular style, not only in Curious George, as well as multiple common themes. Of their large collection, the most notable stories are that of Cecily G. and the 9 Monkeys, the original seven Curious George stories, and The Stars.
The original Curious George books for which these authors are most popular include: Curious George (1941), Curious George Takes a Job (1947), Curious George Rides a Bike (1952), Curious George Gets a Medal (1957), Curious George Flies a Kite (1958), Curious George Learns the Alphabet (1963), and Curious George Goes to the Hospital (1966). This is not the first time Curious George existed in the couples writing, however. The curious monkey made his debut in the first children’s story book they ever published in 1939 called “Cecily G. and the 9 Monkeys.” This book was both written and illustrated by H.A. Rey after he was asked by an editor to create a story about one of his cartoon giraffes drawn for the paper. Publishers and readers alike really enjoyed the character of Fifi, who would soon be named Curious George and continue on with his own series.
The story “Cecily G. and the 9 Monkeys” is about a giraffe named Cecily G. (G for giraffe, although when initially published in France this was not her name- it was Rafi) who is sad about losing all of her friends and family to a zoo. A monkey named Mother Pamplemoose. and her eight children were left homeless by the loss of all the trees in their forest due to woodcutters. The monkeys decide to pack up and leave, but the family runs into a deep ravine that poses to be an obstacle they cannot get by. The youngest monkey notices Cecily G. on the other side of the ravine who immediately stops crying from sadness helps the monkeys across. Fifi (Curious George) is the first monkey to cross and introduces rest of his family. They all decide to live together and a fire breaks out in Cecily’s house! They all work together and put out the fire, and in doing so create a bond that cannot be broken. This bond inspires one monkey to write a song that is featured in the back of the book.
As the first story of a long series to come, Cecily G. sets up reader’s interest immediately in the character of Fifi, later to be known as Curious George. The monkey’s outgoing personality is seen even before he has his own story and it allows the authors to make an obvious and easy transition to stories containing him as a single character. The Curious George series as follows puts the monkey in multiple situations where he allows his curiosity to get himself into trouble and is often narrowly saved by the man in the yellow hat, who is his closest friend and family. All of the books in the series are illustrated by H.A. Rey with his original drawings of Curious George that he took with him during his escape from Nazi occupied France in 1941. The couple, both German Jews, took only a change of clothes and their manuscripts for these children’s stories on homemade bikes during their escape from France. The obvious value and passion of their work is shown through this act and also through the subtle connections with Curious George to their own lives.
Margret and H.A. Rey did not always live in Paris, France, but so happened to be living...