Curious George has a birthday - his 60th

Posted: Thursday, October 25, 2001

"This is George. George is a little monkey and all monkeys are curious. But no monkey is as curious as George. That is why his name is Curious George."

- Curious George Flies a Kite

Sixty years ago this fall, Curious George left Africa with the Man With the Yellow Hat. Seven books and three generations later, the happy-go-lucky little monkey has become an icon for the universal curiosity of children.

Hearthside Books in Nugget Mall celebrates Curious George's 60th anniversary with a "birthday" party from 1 to 3 p.m. Saturday.

The party will include activities, treats, stories and special guests. Curious George himself will be there - larger than life.

"Stop by and say hi to George and bring your cameras," said Susan Hickey at Hearthside Books. "Kids are welcome to bring their books and George will personalize them."

Nugget Mall will host a Halloween festival Saturday afternoon, and Hickey anticipates a great deal of activity in the mall. Parents should not leave children unattended, and children under 5 years old must be accompanied by an adult.

Curious George has grown from seven books to a small marketing empire. There are Curious George dolls, stuffed animals, shirts, lunchboxes, View-Master reels, puzzles, a board game, a music box and books on tape. A team of writers and illustrators also has produced seven new Curious George books in the style of H.A. and Margaret Rey.

More than 25 million copies of Curious George books are in print. This year Houghton Mifflin published "The Complete Adventures of Curious George," including essays about the Reys and the story behind Curious George.

Hans Augusto Rey and his wife, Margaret, were German Jews, born in Hamburg around the turn of the century. They first met in the 1920s when Hans, known by his initials H.A., was dating Margaret's sister. H.A. Rey left Germany in 1924 for Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, where he lived for 12 years.

Margaret Rey received a formal art education in Germany and worked as a commercial and fine artist in Berlin before moving to Rio in 1935. She became reacquainted with H.A. Rey and that same year they were married and went into business together, founding the first advertising agency in Rio.

They took a honeymoon in Europe in 1936, and their planned two-week stay in Paris stretched into a four-year visit. It was there they published their first children's books. The couple's fifth book, published in English as "Raffy and the Nine Monkeys" in 1939, included a little monkey named Fifi who was soon to be featured in his own book.

Hours before the Nazi army invaded Paris in June 1940, the Reys rode their bikes out of the city with only warm coats, manuscripts and drawings. They rode to the Spanish border and made their way to Lisbon, then Rio and finally New York.

The London-based publisher responsible for the English versions of their books also had come to New York to set up a children's book division with Houghton Mifflin Publishers. She signed a fourbook deal with the Reys, and in the fall of 1941 "Curious George" went to press. The new name was the publisher's idea.

In 1942 the book was published in Britain as "Zozo." George was the name of the king at the time, and in 1940s Britain "curious" meant homosexual.

The Reys created a new Curious George book every five or six years until 1966. Margaret Rey served as the Curious George model for her husband, and the couple were renowned for their popularity and rapport with children at schools and public events.

They went on to publish more than 15 books, including seven featuring Curious George. H.A. Rey, an avid amateur astronomer, also created one of the best-selling children's books on astronomy, "The Stars."

The Reys were active in human and civil rights issues throughout their lives. H.A. Rey died in 1977, and Margaret Rey died in 1996.

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