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The Complete Adventures of Curious George

A Very Curious Q & A

Q) How popular is the character of Curious George?

George is known by countless children and adults all over the world. His books have sold over 25 million copies and have been translated into more than 14 languages, including Japanese, French, Afrikaans, Portuguese, Swedish, German, Chinese, Danish, and Norwegian.

Q) How is George celebrating his 60th birthday this year?

• An exciting and fun-filled fall will cap off a year of festivities for George and all his friends.
• Several new books will be available in September, including a 60th Anniversary edition of The Complete
Adventures of Curious George
• A special exhibit of artwork and memorabilia from Margret and Hans Rey will begin traveling the country in
October of 2001.
• In October, Houghton Mifflin and Curious George will be sponsoring Sesame Street in select markets throughout the United States. This is the first time a major publisher will act as a sponsor for this popular show.
• A consumer contest will kick off, in which a family of four will win a trip to Universal Studios Theme Park
in Florida.

Q) What makes the 60th anniversary edition of The Complete Adventures of Curious George different from other editions?

This edition includes an introduction by critic Leonard Marcus, a special biographical essay on Margret and Hans Rey by Dee Jones, curator of the de Grummond Children’s Literature Collection, and a retrospective note by former publisher Anita Silvey.

Q) Margret and Hans Rey were both born in Germany. How did they wind up in America?

After meeting briefly in Germany, Hans and Margret were reunited while working in Rio de Janeiro. They were married in 1935 and moved to Paris soon after. Unfortunately, the political climate in Europe was changing, and by the spring of 1940, Hitler was poised to take over Paris. Hans and Margret fled on homemade bicycles with little more than the clothes on their backs and a handful of manuscripts (one of which starred an inquisitive little monkey named Curious George) hours before German troops marched on the city. After a brief stay in Brazil, they found their way to New York City and eventually settled in Cambridge, Mass.

Q) Did the Reys like animals?

Both Hans and Margret were very fond of animals, and their first stop whenever they visited a new city was the zoo. They owned a series of cocker spaniels, which Hans sometimes featured in his illustrations. And Hans was well known around his summer home for rescuing injured animals and nursing them back to health. One of these animals—an orphaned chipmunk named Coffee, whom Hans had hand-fed with an eyedropper and returned to the wild—came back each summer to visit his human friends.

Q) How did the Reys work together to create their wonderful books?

Hans liked to say that the couple had “our books, her books, and my books,” and the process behind each of these types was different. For the books that they created together, which include the original seven Curious George stories and Whiteblack the Penguin Sees the World, Hans was generally in charge of the ideas and the illustrations, while Margret handled the plot and the writing. However, the lines of responsibility were often blurred on these books, and their collaborative process was more complex than these simple divisions would suggest. In addition, Hans produced several astronomy books, which did not involve Margret, and Margret wrote several books on her own, which Hans illustrated (Pretzel, Spotty).

Q) Where did Hans and Margret get their ideas?

Both Hans and Margret believed that ideas could come from anywhere at any time . . . while soaking in the tub, walking through the woods, reading a book, or dining with friends. A news clipping about two mice that were sent into space to study the effects of weightlessness led to George’s own space flight in Curious George Gets a Medal. Earlier in the same book, George’s bubbly cleaning methods were inspired by a story told to the Reys by a friend. Often, Hans would decide that he would like to see George do something particular, like visit a museum or fly through the air, and this would spark Margret’s imagination.

Q) Did Margret and Hans limit themselves to children’s books, or did their creativity find other outlets?

Margret and Hans founded the first advertising agency in Rio de Janeiro, which allowed Hans to produce a
variety of advertising art and Margret to produce ad copy. Throughout his life, Hans also drew maps and posters, illustrated cookbooks, and designed holiday cards for businesses and for his own use. Margret had received formal art training at the Bauhaus and thus was active in both visual and literary arts. In addition to her writing, she was interested in photography, pottery, and needlepoint.

Q) Why did Hans have to redraw all the pictures for Curious George?

Originally, Hans had created watercolor illustrations for this, his first American book. However, in order to keep printing costs down, many American publishers of this era required their illustrators to create preseparated artwork for their books. This meant that the artist would create four different drawings for each illustration—one drawing for each of the colors of ink that would be applied to the paper. Printer’s plates were created from these separations and, if all went well, the colors aligned perfectly on the printed page. In keeping with this practice, Hans was asked to create separations for Curious George and his original watercolors were tucked away. As the years passed and publishing methods became more sophisticated, the cost of reproducing original artwork fell. In 1998, fifty-seven years after it was originally published, Houghton Mifflin produced a collector’s edition of The Original Curious George that was printed from Hans’ original watercolors.

Q) How did Curious George Goes to the Hospital come about?

The Reys created this book at the request of officials at Boston Children’s Hospital, who wanted a book to prepare children for a hospital stay. The book was difficult to write but brought a great deal of satisfaction to the Reys since so many parents wrote to tell them how effective it was in reducing their child’s trauma.

Q) Why didn’t Margret’s name appear on all the early Curious George books?

As Margret tells it, “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.”

Q) How large a role did George play in the Reys’ daily lives?

George was, as Margret liked to say, “Not an obsession with me at all. But he is the family breadwinner; he has put food on my table for many, many years.” As such, he was afforded a place of honor in their home, and there were various drawings, toys, trinkets, and the like depicting George. From time to time, too, the Reys would grant interviews about their most famous creation, or meet with their young fans.

Q) Isn’t there an interesting story behind the 2000 publication of Whiteblack the Penguin Sees the World?

Anita Silvey, who at the time was the publisher for Houghton Mifflin children’s books, discovered the unpublished manuscript at an exhibition of the Reys’ papers presented by the de Grummond Collection at the University of Southern Mississippi. As Anita tells the story, “I noticed a case enclosing an intriguing watercolor drawing labeled ‘Unpublished work of H. A. Rey.’ Within a few minutes, Dee [Jones, curator of the de Grummond Collection] produced the original sketches for a book . . . suddenly I realized that the Reys had clearly brought a fifth book from Paris.” Houghton Mifflin published this “lost” manuscript amidst much excitement and acclaim.

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