- Virginia Johnson
Margret Rey and her husband, H.A. Rey, had no children themselves, but thousands of kids across the world have made friends with their little monkey, Curious George.
Margret was born in Hamburg, Germany, on May 16, 1906. She studied art at the famous Bauhaus School and elsewhere before moving to Brazil in 1935. Margret married a fellow German artist, Hans Augusto (H. A.) Rey, and together they started the first advertising agency in Rio de Janeiro. They came back to Paris during some of its cruelest days, just before the Nazi occupation. Somehow, funny and delightful Curious George was created during those difficult times.
Here Margret tells in her own words how Curious George came to America:
"In June 1940, on a rainy morning before dawn, a few hours before the Nazis, entered, we [Margret and her husband, H. A. Rey] left Paris on bicycles, with nothing but warm coats and our manuscripts--Curious George among them--tied to the baggage racks, and started pedaling south. We finally made it to Lisbon, by train, having sold our bicycles to customs officials at the French-Spanish border. After a brief interlude in Rio de Janeiro, our migrations came to an end one clear, crisp October morning in 1940, when we saw the Statue of Liberty rise above the harbor of New York, and we landed in the U.S.A.
We took a small apartment in New York's Greenwich Village, rolled up our sleeves, and were ready to start from scratch. We did not know a single publisher, but before the week was over we had found a home for Curious George at Houghton Mifflin.
Among children we seem to be known as the parents of Curious George. "I thought you were monkeys too," said a little boy who had been eager to meet us, disappointment written all over his face."
--From the article, "Times of Their Lives: Nine Authors and Illustrators Look Back on Significant Chapters from Their Illustrious Careers. (excerpted from 'Pauses: Autobiographical Reflections of 101 Creators of Children's Books,' by Lee Bennett Hopkins) Publishers Weekly, Feb 20, 1995 v242 n8 p131(2). You can read more about their escape in The Journey that Saved Curious George, by Louise Borden.
H. A. drew the pictures for Curious George, and Margret wrote the words. She was a small and fiery woman with an expressive face and body. She could show her illustrator-husband very easily what she wanted for the little monkey's poses. Margret's name does not appear on the first few books because there was an idea that the children's market was flooded with books by women, so a man's name would sell better. But later Margret got her due credit.
H. A. and Margret were devoted to each other throughout their lives. After his death in 1977, she kept watch over Curious George's career. More books were written by other authors, and the little monkey also took his place on television and in educational films. With money from the popular books and toys, Margret started the Curious George Foundation which gave help to many worthy causes, especially those that supported children and animals. Her foundation also helped establish the Margret & H. A. Rey Institute for Nonlinear Dynamics in Medicine which is devoted to the playful spirit of scientific research.
These are the "original" Curious George books, written and illustrated by the Reys: Curious George, Curious George Takes a Job, Curious George Gets a Medal, Curious George Flies a Kite, Curious George Learns the Alphabet, and Curious George Goes to the Hospital. Several collections are also available: The Adventures of Curious George, The Complete Adventures of Curious George, and Curious George and Friends: Eight Favorite Stories. The Complete Adventures has a wonderful introduction and a retrospective essay with photographs of the authors and their works.
H. A. also illustrated Margret's other children's books. Two notable ones are Pretzel, the story of a lovesick dachshund, and Elizabite, The Adventures of a Carnivorous Plant. Curious George makes a guest appearance in Cecily G. and the 9 Monkeys.
Margret died on December 21, 1996 in Cambridge, Massachusetts, where the couple had made their home. She left one more delightful surprise for her readers. Whiteblack the Penguin Sees the World was written by the Reys at the same time as the original Curious George book. Sixty-three years may have passed since the time Whiteblack was peddled out of Paris alongside Curious George, but the plucky penguin has found a happy audience at last.
You can read more about the Reys online:
H. A. and Margret Rey Papers
de Grummond Children's Literature Collection
The University of Southern Mississippi
This Web site for the couples' papers includes detailed biographical notes. The papers themselves are not online but are available at the library for researchers.
Also check out articles on Margret Rey found in Biography in Context on our research page.