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Margret and H. A. Rey

H. A. Rey by Cari Meister (simple text for early readers)

The Journey that Saved Curious George: The True Wartime Escape of Margret and H. A. Rey by Louise Borden, Illustrated by Allan Drummond


H. A. was known for rescuing stray animals and nursing them back to health; one such animal was a chipmunk named Coffee. He was also very interested in astronomy and wrote several books for children on the constellations. Margret also enjoyed photography, pottery, and needlepoint. Margret’s name does not appear on some of the earliest published books because the children’s book field was so filled with women authors.

When Curious George was first published in England, the title was changed to Zozo because they didn’t want to offend King George IV. It was six years before the second Curious George book was published. H. A. also used the penname Uncle Gus and published Christmas Manger, Uncle Gus’s Farm, and Uncle Gus’s Circus under that name. Rey illustrated other’s books such as Katy No-Pocket, cookbooks, maps, and holiday cards. Margret and H. A.’s book Whiteblack was only discovered in 2000 even though it had been written at the same time as CG while they were in Paris. George first appeared in the book Raffy and the Nine Monkeys, then the Reys decided that he needed a book of his own.

In 1963, the Reys moved from Greenwich Village to Cambridge, Massachusetts close to Harvard Square. There they could garden and have more opportunities for star-gazing.

Awards won: Lewis Carroll Shelf Award, Children’s Book Award from the Child Study Association of America, Children’s Choice Award from the School Library Journal, and American Library Association Notable Book. George was one of the eight Favorite Children’s Book Animals on 39-cent stamps in 2006. Curious George has his own program on PBS, and a movie was made of him in 2006.

H. A. once said, “I know what I liked as a child, and I don’t do any book that I, as a child, wouldn’t have liked.” They believed that ideas could come at any time (while soaking in the tub, walking in the woods, dining with friends…) and from anywhere (a news clipping about two mice sent into space to study effects of weightlessness inspired them to write Curious George Gets a Medal where George goes into space).

More images (especially of original sketches) can be found by Googling De Grummond Children’s Literature Collection, then click on site index.
Tier 1

  • Trace the route of the Reys in Europe and over to Waterville Valley, New Hampshire.

  • Share what you remember about the Curious George books you’ve read. Do you know other animal characters that they created? [Cecily G. the giraffe, Billy the bunny, Elizabite the carnivorous plant, Whiteblack a penguin, Spotty a rabbit, Pretzel a dachshund, and more.]

  • Understand the terms mischievous, valise, neutral country, consulate, diplomat, tandem, goose-stepped, refugee, philanthropy.

Tier 2

  • Discuss the positives and negatives of being curious.

  • If you had to suddenly leave the country and could only pack in a basket attached to a bicycle, what would you choose to take and why?

Tier 1

  • Read “Finding the Story” and list all of the primary sources used in research.

  • Compare and contrast the art style and skill of H. A.’s earliest work of (on p. 7) with his later works in children’s books.

  • List the kinds of images used to illustrate the book. What else might he have added to these pages from real photographs or items? If you have both books, compare and contrast the illustrations included.
  • How long in total (months and days or fractions of a month) was their journey from the day they left Paris to when they landed in New York.

Tier 2

  • Can you think of additional reasons why both changed their names or spellings? Why do you think they changed the name of Fifi to George?

  • On the first day of their escape, the Reys rode 48 kilometers which is the same as 29.8 miles. On a map, locate 29.8 miles distance from your hometown to understand how far they went. Imagine the difficulties in riding a bicycle that far.

  • What do H. A.’s diary entries reveal about his personality?

  • Examine closely the revisions made to the text of a story (p. 70). How do those changes improve the story?

Tier 3

  • Re-read several Curious George stories. Connect the Reys’s life experiences with what they included in these stories. Classify those early experiences as very significant, moderately, or little significant in their later lives as authors/illustrators. Defend your classifications with reasons.

  • The author of The Journey spent half of the book with information about the Reys’s early years, and the second half of the book detailing their escape. Little was mentioned about Curious George. Why do you think the author made those decisions as to what to include and what to leave out?

  • The section of the book regarding their escape is almost entirely illustrated in the artist’s pictures. Why were no other kinds of illustrations included?

  • Summarize the Reys’s message in one sentence. What are they trying to tell us through George and his antics? (Do the same for other books of the Reys.)


Tier 1

  • The Reys were active and interested in a variety of things beyond writing and illustrating: astronomy, natural history, photography, environmental concerns (especially developing renewable energy), animal care, gardening, walking, and bicycling. The Rey Center today continues to provide experiences for families in these areas. Project yourself into the future. If someone were to list all of your interests when you are older (say 50), what do you think they would write? Which of these are interests and skills you have now, and which are ones you would like to develop in the future?

  • Imagine that you were the Reys on their escape journey. Write journal entries which share what you are feeling.

  • The Reys were philanthropic. They donated their summer home in Waterville Valley, New Hampshire to become the Curious George Cottage which sponsors events in astronomy, art, nature, and literature. The Curious George Foundation was formed to fund a variety of programs for children and animals. At the request of the Boston Children’s Hospital, the Reys created the book Curious George Goes to the Hospital. What philanthropic work would you like to do now and in the future? Write a detailed description/plan of what you would do.

Tier 2

  • Since H. A. once used a penname, develop an appropriate penname for yourself. Explain why you decided on that name.

  • After reading several of the Reys’ books, what personal qualities do they value as exemplified in their books?

Tier 3
  • Read books by the Reys with characters other than CG. Why do you think Curious George became more popular than the other characters they created?

  • When the Reys landed in New York, they did not know a single person who worked in book publishing, but they were willing to try and found a publisher by the end of a week. What risks were they taking? What risks are you willing to take in your life?

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