Skip to main content

The Journey That Saved Curious George: The True Wartime Escape of Margret and H. A. Rey


The Journey That Saved Curious George: The True Wartime Escape of Margret and H. A. Rey

Over the years, millions have followed along as Curious George learned the alphabet, went to the hospital, received a medal, and flew a kite. His most dramatic adventure, though, took place the year before his 1941 debut when his creators, Hans and Margret Rey, embarked on a journey that not only saved their lives but, in a sense, George's as well.

On June 12, 1940, as the German army marched through France, the Reys left Paris, traveling on bicycles that Hans made using spare parts. For three days they pedaled, on the first leg of what was to become a months-long journey that took them to five countries. Their final destination was New York City, where they made their new home.

On a gray, rainy day the Reys left Paris with little more than the clothes on their backs, but Hans carried precious cargo in the basket strapped to his bike --- a manuscript for their children's book featuring a cheeky monkey named Fifi (later re-named George).

As Louise Borden recounts, Hans and Margret were both raised Jewish in Hamburg, Germany, and their families were acquainted. In 1935, nine years after Hans had left Hamburg to settle in Rio de Janeiro, Margret too departed Germany. After working as a photographer in London, she made her way to Rio to look up Hans Rey, with whom she then began collaborating professionally and personally.

After the two artists were married in August of 1935, they returned to Europe and settled in Paris. It was here that they began writing and illustrating children's books, but five years after they arrived in the French capital they were forced to undertake their journey. Paris was becoming an increasingly dangerous place --- especially so for German-born Jews --- and hours after they left, the city fell to enemy forces.

Borden writes in the book's Introduction, "For many years, I was intrigued by the story of Margret and H. A. Rey's flight from Paris…. Others in the children's book field had mentioned this escape from the Nazi invasion, but no one seemed to know the details of those harrowing days. The story felt incomplete. I wanted to know more. I wanted real images. I was curious, just like the Reys' famous little monkey, George."

The result of Borden's curiosity is this vibrant biography, told in picture book format. She does a fine job balancing serious aspects, including Hitler's rise to power and the changing political climate, with the whimsical, such as the fact that Hans and Margret owned two pet monkeys while living in Brazil and later shared their Paris apartment with two turtles.

THE JOURNEY THAT SAVED CURIOUS GEORGE is enhanced by Allan Drummond's colorful illustrations, along with the Reys' artwork, excerpts from Hans' pocket diaries, photos, correspondence, and mementos from Hans and Margret's long journey. Readers young and old will delight in this true-life tale of Curious George's creators.

Reviewed by Shannon McKenna on September 26, 2005

The Journey That Saved Curious George: The True Wartime Escape of Margret and H. A. Rey
by Louise Borden

  • Publication Date: September 26, 2005
  • Hardcover: 73 pages
  • Publisher: HMH Books
  • ISBN-10: 0618339248
  • ISBN-13: 9780618339242