Tuesday, September 16, 2008

H.A. Rey

From the Writers' Almanac with Garrison Keillor, September 16, 2008.

It's the birthday of the childrens' author and illustrator H.A. Rey born Hans Augusto Reyersbach in Hamburg, Germany, in 1898. When Hans was a boy in Hamburg, he lived near a zoo, and he loved visiting the animals there he would imitate their noises and paint them. And in Hamburg he met a young girl named Margret Elisabeth Waldstein, but then she left to go study art. Hans served in the army, he went to school for a while, and he supported himself by designing posters for the circus. But the economy in Germany was bad, so he went to Rio de Janeiro to help his brother-in-law sell bathtubs. Hans changed his name from Reyersbach to Rey because it was hard for Brazilians to pronounce. In Brazil, he met up with Margret, who was all grown up, and they fell in love and got married.

Hans and Margret Rey returned to Europe in 1935, but they were Jewish and they couldn't go back to Nazi Germany, so they settled in Paris. Hans drew some cartoons of a giraffe for a newspaper, and a French publisher liked them and he asked Hans to do some more work like that. So the Reys started writing a book called Cecily G. and the Nine Monkeys (1942), one of its characters was a monkey named Curious George, and the Reys thought he was the best character and that he should have a book of his own.

They were happy to be living in Paris, happy to be working on more children's books and translations of nursery rhymes, but in June of 1940, they discovered that Hitler was about to take control of Paris and that they were in huge danger. As fast as he could, Hans constructed two bicycles from spare parts he found, and on the morning of June 14, the Reys biked out of the city with some food, warm coats, and five manuscripts. One of those manuscripts was Curious George. The Nazis took control of Paris that afternoon, but the Reys were safely out of the city. They biked for four days until they reached the Spanish border, and then they sold their bikes for enough money to buy train tickets to Lisbon.

Over the next few months, they made it from Lisbon to Brazil, and then eventually to New York City. 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).

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