Tag Archives: Brandeis University

Jews of the Week: Margaret and H.A. Rey

Curious George

Margaret and H.A. Rey

Margaret and H.A. Rey

Margarete Elisabethe Waldstein (1906-1996) was born in Hamburg, Germany, the daughter of a Jewish politician. She studied art and worked in advertising until 1935, when she fled Nazi Germany for Brazil. In Rio de Janeiro, she reconnected with an old family friend who had also moved to Brazil. Hans Augusto Reyersbach (1898-1977) was born in Hamburg, too, and now working as a salesman in Rio. The two got married that same year, and resettled in Paris. Reyersbach started drawing a series of animal cartoons and was soon commissioned to write a children’s book by a French publisher. Cecily G. and the Nine Monkeys, a story about a giraffe and her monkey friends, was published in 1939 under the pen name H.A. Rey. The story became popular very quickly. Particularly beloved was one of the monkey characters in the book, originally named Fifi, and commonly translated to other languages as George. The following year, Rey started working on a new manuscript featuring the curious monkey. By this point, World War II had started, and the Nazis were approaching Paris. Hans and Margaret fled the city on a pair of bicycles. The manuscript was one of the few things they took with them. The couple arrived in Spain, then Portugal, then headed back to Brazil, and finally settled in New York. Curious George was published in 1941, and like its predecessor, was very popular. Hans and Margaret went on to produce seven Curious George books together. Hans wrote and illustrated many more children’s books before passing away in 1977. Two years later, Margaret became a professor of creative writing at Brandeis University. Meanwhile, she worked on a second series of Curious George books, as well as a number of short TV films based on the stories. In 1989, she established the Curious George Foundation with two goals: to promote creative writing among children, and to prevent cruelty to animals. When she passed away in 1996, Margaret left major donations for the Boston Public Library, the Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, and donated the family’s entire literary estate. Curious George continues to be among the most popular children’s books all over the world. A third series of Curious George stories have been produced in recent years, as well as a TV series which airs on PBS. In 2006, an animated film starring Will Ferrell and Drew Barrymore was released. Two sequels and a video game have been produced since then. Today, there is an official children’s bookstore in Cambridge, Massachusetts called The World’s Only Curious George Store. There is also a Curious George Live national tour, and a popular Curious George-themed water park at Universal Studios in Florida.

Words of the Week

One should always see to it that tomorrow should be much better than today.
– Rabbi Yosef Yitzchak of Lubavitch