Books·Curiosity Day

25 things you don't know about the amazing (real) adventures of Curious George

Sept. 14, 2019 is the 78th anniversary of Curious George. Celebrate Curiosity Day by learning more about George and the Man with the Yellow Hat.
An original illustration of Curious George, which is featured in the 75th anniversary edition. (Submitted by Raincoast Books)

"This is George." Those three words have been read countless times by parents to generations of children — and they first appeared in print 78 years ago, in 1941. Each September, publisher Houghton Mifflin Harcourt celebrates another year with Curious George by declaring Curiosity Day, which takes place this year on Sept. 14.

In honour of Curiosity Day, here are 25 facts about George and the amazing couple who created him.

1. Curious George's creators, Margret and H.A. Rey, were born Margarete Elisabeth Waldstein and Hans Augusto Reyersbach to German Jewish families; Hans in 1898 and Margret in 1906. 

2. They met briefly in Hamburg when Margret was a young girl, before she went off to school.

3. As a child, H.A. Rey lived near the world-famous Hagenbeck Zoo in Hamburg, instilling in him a love of animals.

4. After first meeting in Hamburg, H.A. and Margret met again in Rio De Janeiro in 1935, where H.A. was working for the family business, selling bathtubs. Margret was seeking an escape from the political climate in Germany.¹

5. Margret and H.A. were both artists. H.A. was self-trained; Margret was trained at the influential Bauhaus school.¹

Margret and H.A. Rey were the creators and married couple behind Curious George. (Submitted by Raincoast Books)

6. They were married in Brazil on Aug. 16, 1935.¹

7. The pair founded the first advertising agency in Brazil, and then returned to Europe in 1936, settling in Paris after falling in love with the city on their European honeymoon tour.¹

8. In the predawn hours of June 14, 1940 — just hours before the German army entered Paris — H.A. and Margret escaped on two bicycles that H.A. cobbled together from spare parts.

9. They left with nothing but their winter coats, a little food and several picture books strapped to the bicycle racks.¹

10. So it can safely be said that George's first adventure was being smuggled away from the Nazis on a bicycle.¹

Illustration: Escape from Paris by Allan Drummond. Courtesy of the Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. All rights reserved. (Submitted by Raincoast Books)

11. Margret and H.A. crossed the French-Spanish border after four days traveling by bicycle, then caught a train to Lisbon and sailed back to Brazil, using Hans' Brazilian passport to get into the United States, where they lived for the rest of their lives.¹

12. Curious George made his first appearance in a picture book by H.A. Rey called Cecily G. and the 9 Monkeys. George is one of the nine monkeys and is called "Fifi."¹

13. Of the two, Margret had the head for business, helping H.A. negotiate a four-book contract that led to the original Curious George book, published in 1941. The deal was for $1,000.¹

14. The initial print run for Curious George was 7,500 copies at a retail price of $2 or less.¹

15. In 1945, Curious George had sold -6 copies, as bookstores returned more copies than they sold.

An original illustration of Curious George, which is featured in the 75th anniversary edition. (Submitted by Raincoast Books)

16. In one scene in the book, George smokes a pipe after a good meal.

17. Margret posed for drawings of George from time to time.¹

18. The Reys never had children of their own.¹

19. Curious George saw an increase of popularity during the baby boom years after the Second World War. In 1958, the book sold over 10,000 copies in one year for the first time.

An illustration from My First Bedtime Stories, a collection of six Curious George stories. (Submitted by Raincoast Books)

20. In the original Curious George books, George nearly drowns, goes to prison, trashes a dinosaur exhibit, saves an ostrich from choking, washes dishes at an Italian restaurant, gets sent into space, kidnaps a cow, learns how to fold a paper boat, joins the circus and swallows a puzzle piece. Just to name a few adventures.¹

21. Margret and H.A. Rey were active supporters of the U.S. Civil Rights Movement.¹

22. Hans passed away in 1977. Margret died 19 years later, in 1996.¹

23. Today, there are over 25 million copies of the original Curious George titles in print.¹

24. Margret and H.A. Rey published six sequels to the original Curious George, but there have been countless updates to the mischievous monkey's exploits since, written and illustrated in the Rey style.

25. Since it was first published in 1941, the original Curious George has never gone out of print

An illustration from My First Bedtime Stories, a collection of six Curious George stories. (Submitted by Raincoast Books)

¹From The Complete Adventures of Curious George by Margret and H.A. Rey, introduction and publisher's note ©2001, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt.

Comments

To encourage thoughtful and respectful conversations, first and last names will appear with each submission to CBC/Radio-Canada's online communities (except in children and youth-oriented communities). Pseudonyms will no longer be permitted.

By submitting a comment, you accept that CBC has the right to reproduce and publish that comment in whole or in part, in any manner CBC chooses. Please note that CBC does not endorse the opinions expressed in comments. Comments on this story are moderated according to our Submission Guidelines. Comments are welcome while open. We reserve the right to close comments at any time.